Christian Churches of God
Early Theology of the Godhead:
An Examination of the Patristic Writers and Their Exposition of God
(Edition 4.0 19950722-1998093-20110104-20110129)
This paper examines the early writings and isolates their views of the Godhead. It establishes beyond dispute that the early writers were neither Trinitarians nor Binitarians, and did not believe that Christ existed from the infinite past. This paper is useful in tracing the gradual distortion of theology into the Trinitarian structure.
Early Theology of the Godhead
The Antiquity of the Concept of the Triune God or Trinitarianism
The major assumption of modern day Christianity is that God exists as three entities or hypostases. They are variously configured as three entities in one or as one in three, described as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, whether or not they are described as persons. The three entities are said to form a Trinity. Appeal for the correctness of the assertion is made to antiquity. Another and less widely held assumption and equally false is that the early Church was Binitarian rather than Trinitarian in that it held that Christ, while being subordinate, was nevertheless co-eternal. There were thus two true Gods existing side by side as Father and Son. This is what was known anciently as the Dual Power Heresy. This error stems from early Gnosticism and the Mystery and the Sun cults and has nothing to do with the Apostolic or early Church. It contravenes the testimony of John (Jn. 17:3 and 1Jn. 5:20) who holds that there is only One True God and that Jesus Christ is His son, and also the writings of Paul who holds that only God is immortal from 1Timothy 6:16. The understanding of John and Paul and the other apostles was also held by the disciples of John and their heirs, as we will see below.
This paper is addressed to examining the validity of such assumptions regarding the Godhead in the light of the biblical teaching we have established previously and the understanding of the early theologians. The assertion that God is confined to three entities each being co-eternal and co-equal was not the understanding of the Apostolic Church as we have seen. It will also be seen that it was not the understanding of the early Church. The concept of a Godhead as exercised by three beings is not peculiar to Christianity and, in fact, precedes Christ by many centuries. There is no doubt that the triune god is found among the earliest civilisations and is known to extend east into Asia. The concepts attendant upon the Triune God entered Christianity largely through the Greeks and their influence on the Romans. The etymology of the name of Jesus is derived from the Greek. Jesus is a Hellenisation of Joshua which was the name of the Messiah. The word in the New Testament used to translate Joshua is SGD 2424 z30F@ØH or ’Iesous. This word is used of Joshua son of Nun in Hebrews 4:8, and Joshua (z30F@Ø or ’Iesou) of the line of Zerubbabel, ancestor of Christ, in Luke 3:29. The word is also used to translate Justus in Colossians 4:11.
The Greek word Iesus appears to be a rendering based on the Celtic Esus, one of a triumvirate of gods found among the Hyperborean Celts (see ERE, Vol. 3, p. 278). The Celts had greater affinities with the Latins than with the Teutons (ibid.). The name Esus probably entered Greece from the north with the Hyperborean religious system and the Mysteries. The triumvirate appeared among the Tuatha de Danann, as Brian, Iuchair and Iucharbar, as sons of the goddess Danu (ibid., p. 282). The Tuatha de Danann also became associated with the Island Elysium and hence the Elysian Mysteries (ibid., p. 298) and became known as the men of the three gods (ibid., p. 292).
They believed in descent from, rather than creation by, the gods (ibid., p. 298). The Druids taught that the Gauls were descended from Dispater, the god of the underworld (ibid., pp. 298-299).
Esus was the mainland god who is pictured, on the altar at Treves, as cutting down a tree in which is a bull's head and three cranes (representing the goddess Morrigan, nightmare queen associated in trinity with Brigit and Anu, ibid., p. 286). Reinach holds that this unites the same concepts found on the Paris altar (ibid. p. 296). D'Arbois (R. Cel., xix, p. 246) sees in these a reference to the Tain. Esus is Cuchilainn cutting down a tree to intercept his enemies. The bull is the Brown Bull of Cualnge. Thus, Esus is associated with the Mysteries and the bull slaying cults. The bull and its rival were seen, also among the Helvii, as re-incarnations of the sid-folk (swine people) in that they had a divine origin (ERE, ibid., p. 296). Later the divine bull became associated with the god Medros (ibid.). The Celts grouped heads of human sacrifice, whose flesh they ate, in threes from the triune concepts (ibid., p. 300).
The First Reference to a Threefold Aspect of God in Christianity
The first instance of a reference to the Christian Godhead as three entities was by Theophilus of Antioch (c. 180 CE) who used the term JD4"H or trias of which the latin trinitas is held to be a translation. The term was used where he spoke of the trias of God, His Word and His Wisdom (Theophilus to Autolycus. The ANF here translates the word trias as trinity). The next instance of the use of the term is by Tertullian (De Pud, c. xxi, P. G., II, 1026). Tertullian was the first to directly assert the essential unity of the three “persons”, but his logic and arguments are essentially subordinationist (see Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. II, p. 570). The nearest equivalent to the Nicene doctrine did not occur until proposed by the Roman Bishop Dionysius (CE 262) who was a Greek by birth. He was concerned to eliminate the process of reducing the three entities to separate Gods (Schaff, ibid.).
The assertion that God is an entity comprising two beings and a persona as a spirit or power which emanates from one or both is a later fourth, fifth and sixth century Trinitarian assertion. The assertion was made in modification of an original trias (above) abandoned as inadequate. Both the triune cosmology and the Trinity, as it is now understood, are biblically unsound as also is Binitarianism.
The concept of the trinity may be defined in two ways as:
1. "Three Persons who are equally possessed of the divine nature". This is held to have been the dominant view since the Councils of Nicæa and Constantinople.
2. The Son and the Spirit as deriving from the Father who is the sole source of Godhead. This was the prevalent view of the Ante-Nicene Fathers and the Church generally up until Nicæa (c. 325 CE) (see G.H. Joyce, The Catholic Encyc.(C.E.) article ‘Trinity’, Vol. XV, p. 51, where he states that "Under this aspect, the Father, as being the sole source of all, may be termed greater than the Son").
The doctrine of the Trinity rests on a series of false assumptions made contrary to biblical evidence. The two major false assumptions which are evident from the quotes herein are:
that the terms translated God are confined to one, two or three entities or hypostases; and
that Christ is God co-eternally and co-equally as God the Father is God.
From the analysis in God Revealed, Book One we see that the assumptions are without biblical support and indeed are contrary to Scripture. The second assumption above is derived from the Binitarianism of the Mystery and Sun cults.
Examining Co-Equality and Co-Eternality
Many of the Patristic writers denied the equality of the Son with the Father. Similarly, their logic denies co-eternality. The relevant passages are as follows. The Binitarian structure is derived in Rome from the worship of Attis and not Christianity.
Our teacher of these things is Jesus Christ, who also was born for this purpose, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, in the times of Tiberius Caesar; and that we reasonably worship Him, having learned that He is the Son of the true God Himself, and holding Him in the second place, and the prophetic Spirit in the third, we will prove. For they proclaim our madness to consist in this, that we give to a crucified man a place second to the unchangeable and eternal God, the Creator of all; for they do not discern the mystery that is therein, to which, as we make it plain to you, we pray you to give heed. (Apol., I, xiii)
And the first power after God the Father and Lord of all is the Word [8@(@H or logos], who is also the Son. (Apol., I, xxxii).
It is wrong, therefore, to understand the Spirit and the power of God, as anything else than the Word [8@(@H or logos], who is also the firstborn of God. (Apol., I, xxxiii).
Thus Justin thinks of the Logos as an emanation of God which is capable of individuation to embrace the concept of the Spirit in general and Christ in particular. He says however:
But both Him [God] and the Son (who came forth from Him and taught us these things, and the host of the other good angels who follow and are made like to Him), and the prophetic Spirit, knowing them in reason and in truth, and declaring without grudging to every one who wishes to learn, as we have been taught.
Thus the angels were also held to be conformed to the image of God. From Chapters 13, 16 and 61, Justin did not advocate the worship of Angels (see also fn. 3 to ANF, Vol. 1, p. 164). The term worship is derived from that term at Revelation 3:9 based on proskuneo, namely BD@F6L<ZFTF4< or proskunesoosin (Marshall), meaning they shall bow down before the elect of the Philadelphia Church. Thus the term does not mean to worship the angels or Christ but to pay obeisance by prostration of the body; in other words, to do homage. Thus the entities referred to are paid homage in their capacity as part of the loyal Host of God. The angel said to John to refrain from doing this but rather to worship God (Rev. 22:9). Thus the elect worship God only. Justin refers to paying homage and not to worship. The promise to the Philadelphian Church was because the Jews who claimed to be Jews, but were of the synagogue of Satan, had commenced the Mystical processes of the Merkabah or ascents of the Chariot of God, and the propitiation of angels at the seven levels (see Mysticism). This error extended to the Colossian Church in part. The worship of the Christian Church is confined to God and does not extend even to Christ, other than in homage as a controller and master. But importantly, Justin extends the body to include the loyal Host. This is therefore a closer approximation to the biblical doctrine of the Spirit being capable of individuation to embrace the elect who are to become theoi, as Christ is one of the theoi subordinate to his theos who is God the Father. Biblically, he is however the second highest theos, as the high priest.
Justin was seemingly among the first to introduce Sunday worship (see Bacchiocchi, From Sabbath to Sunday, pp. 223ff.) yet he was still a subordinationist. He held peculiar antinomian views regarding the Sabbath and its application to the Jews as a peculiar punishment. His views were not supported by Christians at the time, and Bacchiocchi holds that the Christian Church has never accepted such a false thesis (p. 225). To hold that God established the circumcision and the Sabbath solely on account of the wickedness of the Jews as a distinguishing mark, to set them off from other nations and us Christians so that the Jews only might suffer affliction (Dial. 16:1, 21:1; see also Bacchiocchi, ibid.) makes God guilty of gross respect of persons and is contrary to the entire sentiment of the confessions of the Reformation. In spite of this error, his view of the Godhead is still subordinationist. However, he introduces emanationist reasoning which seems to accompany this antinomianist approach. As we have seen, Justin however still denied the doctrine of the Soul and heaven as non-Christian stemming from the mystery cults (Dial. LXXX).
Irenæus was a Smyrna trained disciple of Polycarp, disciple of John, and the closest we get to the original theology.
Irenæus says of God:
For He commanded, and they were created; He spake and they were made. Whom therefore did He command? The Word, no doubt, by whom, He says, the heavens were established and all their power by the breath of His mouth [Ps. 33:6]. (Adv. haer., III, viii, 3)
Irenæus held that:
it is clearly proved that neither the prophets nor the apostles did ever name another God, or call [him] Lord, except the true and only God....But the things established are distinct from Him who has established them, and what have been made from Him who made them. For He is Himself uncreated, both without beginning and end, and lacking nothing. He is Himself sufficient for Himself; and still further, He grants to all others this very thing, existence; but the things which have been made by Him (ibid.).
Irenæus extended the capacity to become God (theos or elohim) to the Logos here as distinct from the other things established (ibid.). He had already established the position of God and the Son and those of the adoption as theoi or elohim and all sons of God from Book III, Chapter vi.
Therefore neither would the Lord, nor the Holy Spirit, nor the apostles, have ever named as God, definitely and absolutely, him who was not God, unless he were truly God; nor would they have named any one in his own person Lord, except God the Father ruling over all, and His Son who has received dominion from His Father over all creation, as this passage has it: The Lord says unto my Lord, Sit Thou at my right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool [Ps. 110:1]. Here the [Scripture] represents the Father addressing the Son; He who gave Him the inheritance of the heathen, and subjected to Him all His enemies...
Irenæus went on to state that the Holy Spirit termed both Father and Son here as Lord. He held that it was Christ who spoke with Abraham prior to the destruction of the Sodomites and had received power [from God] to judge the Sodomites for their wickedness. And this [text following]
does declare the same truth: “‘Thy throne, O God’ is for ever and ever; the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre. Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity: therefore God, Thy God hath anointed Thee” [Ps. 45:6] For the Spirit designates both [of them] by the name of God [theos or elohim] - both Him who is anointed as Son and Him who does anoint, that is the Father. And again: “God stood in the congregation of the gods, he judges among the gods” [Ps. 82:1]. He [here] refers to the Father and the Son and those who have received the adoption; but these are the Church for she is the synagogue of God, which God - that is the Son Himself - has gathered by Himself of whom He again speaks: “The God of gods, the Lord hath spoken, and hath called the earth.” [Ps. 50:1]. Who is meant by God? He of whom He has said, “God shall come openly, our God, and shall not keep silence;” [Ps. 50:3] that is, the Son who came manifested to men, who said, “I have openly appeared to those who seek Me not” [Isa. 65:1]. But of what gods [does he speak]? [Of those] to whom He says, “I have said, Ye are gods, and all sons of the Most High” [Ps. 82:6]. To those, no doubt, who have received the grace of the “adoption, by which we cry Abba Father” [Rom. 8:15] (Against Heresies, Bk. III, Ch. vi, ANF, Vol. I, pp. 418-419).
There is no doubt that Irenæus had a subordinationist view of the Godhead and extended the term God (as theoi or elohim) to include the Son and those also of the adoption. We know without doubt that the Council of the Sons of God were the elohim (cf. also Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:4-7; the Psalms and Rev. 4 and 5). Thus the adoption, by definition, had to include the loyal Host also (see below). He seems to indicate here that Christ gathered the elect, whereas we know from Scripture that it is God who gives the elect to Christ in order that they be gathered (Jn. 17:11-12; Heb. 2:13; 9:15). The exclusive use of the term to the physical elect may be incorrect given Irenæus’ application here. The loyal Host are also included in the council from the understanding in Revelation 4 and 5 – thus the loyal Host are also the Ecclesia of God. There is no doubt that the term elohim or theoi was held to extend to the Church and that this was the understanding of the first century Church both from John to Polycarp who taught Irenæus and on into the second and subsequent centuries.
It is clear that Ireneaus held that only God the Father was the true God of the Bible and he was creator of all others.
In Book V chapter 25 we read in s.2:
2. Moreover, he (the apostle) has also pointed out this which I have shown in many ways, that the temple in Jerusalem was made by the direction of the true God. For the apostle himself, speaking in his own person, distinctly called it the temple of God. Now I have shown in the third book, that no one is termed God by the apostles when speaking for themselves, except Him who truly is God, the Father of our Lord, by whose directions the temple which is at Jerusalem was constructed for those purposes which I have already mentioned; in which [temple] the enemy shall sit, endeavouring to show himself as Christ, as the Lord also declares: But when you shall see the abomination of desolation, which has been spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let him that reads understand), then let those who are in Judea flee into the mountains; and he who is upon the house-top, let him not come down to take anything out of his house: for there shall then be great hardship, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall be.
It is beyond doubt that the early church was subordinationist and that those trained from Smyrna under the apostles and those such as Polycarp were Biblical Unitarians and held that only the Father was the One True God and that all others, Christ included, were granted eternal life from the Father.
Irenæus spoke against the newly merging Binitarianism of the Sun cults in Rome and identified their Binitarian doctrines as heresy and their system went on to fully develop the Trinitarianism of the Triune God. That is the doctrine of Antichrist and its correct structure is seen from Irenæus. This doctrine penetrated the churches of God at the end of the twentieth century from the US.
Irenaeus, Ch. 16:8 (ANF, Vol. 1, fn. p. 443).
Hereby know ye the spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth Jesus Christ came in the flesh is of God; and every spirit which separates Jesus Christ is not of God but is of Antichrist.
Socrates the Historian says (VII, 32, p. 381) that the passage had been corrupted by those who wished to separate the humanity of Jesus Christ from his divinity.
Clement of Alexandria says in like manner:
For the Son is the power of God, as being the Father's most ancient Word before the production of all things, and His Wisdom. He is then properly called the Teacher of the beings formed by Him.
Now the energy of the Lord has a reference to the Almighty; and the Son is, so to speak, an energy of the Father. ("Strom.", VII, ii, P.G., IX, 410)
Clement however understood that the destiny of the elect was to become gods. He said when speaking of gnosis which he held could be attained by man to some extent during his stay on earth:
But it reaches its climax after the death of the body, when the soul of the [gnoostikos] is allowed to fly back to its original place, where after becoming a god, it can enjoy, in a complete and perpetual rest, the contemplation of the highest divinity 'face to face', together with the other [theoi] (S. R. C. Lilla Clement of Alexandria A Study In Christian Platonism and Gnosticism, Oxford, 1971, p. 142).
Thus here we see the combination of the Greek gnosis combined with the early doctrine that we would become theoi or elohim. There was no suggestion that Christ or the other theoi were equal to this highest divinity.
Hippolytus says and most significantly:
Now, that Noetus affirms that the Son and Father are the same, no one is ignorant. But he makes his statement thus: "When indeed, then, the Father had not been born, He yet was justly styled Father; and when it pleased Him to undergo generation, having been begotten, He Himself became His own Son, not another's." For in this manner he thinks to establish the sovereignty of God, alleging that the Father and Son, so called, are one and the same (substance), not one individual produced from a different one, but Himself from Himself; and that He is styled by name Father and Son, according to vicissitude of times. (Hippolytus repeats this opinion in his summary, Book X.) (Con. Noet, n. 14, "The Refutation of All Heresies", Bk. IX, Ch. V, ANF, Vol. V, pp. 127-128);
The first and only (One God), both Creator and Lord of all, had nothing coeval with Himself, ... But He was One, alone in Himself. By an exercise of His will He created things that are, which antecedently had no existence, except that He willed to make them. For He is fully acquainted with whatever is about to take place, for foreknowledge also is present to Him. (Hippolytus, ibid., X, XXVIII, p. 150)
Therefore this solitary and supreme Deity, by an exercise of reflection, brought forth the Logos first; not the word in the sense of being articulated by voice, but as a ratiocination of the universe, conceived and residing in the divine mind. Him alone He produced from existing things; for the Father Himself constituted existence, and the being born from Him was the cause of all things that are produced. The Logos was in the Father Himself, bearing the will of His progenitor, and not being unacquainted with the mind of the Father.
For simultaneously with His procession from His progenitor, inasmuch as He is this Progenitor's firstborn, He has as a voice in Himself, the ideas conceived in the Father. And so it was, that when the Father ordered the world to come into existence, the Logos one by one completed each object of creation thus pleasing God. (Hippolytus, ibid., X, XXIX)
Christ, he means, the wisdom and power of God the Father, hath builded His house... (Fragment on Proverb 9:1, ANF, Vol. V, p. 175)
It is with this writer that we first develop the error that Christ was the only emanation of the Father and that the other elements of the heavenly Host are creations of the Son and thus do not share in the divine nature as does the Son. Now this is the basic error upon which the doctrine of the Trinity began to be built. The elohim as was demonstrated from the biblical context are a multiple Host of which the Lamb is the High Priest but he is one of them as a fellow or comrade even though all of the hierarchical structure was created by or in him and for him (Col. 1:15). The saints likewise become companions to Christ from Hebrews 3:14 and hence brothers to the Host (Rev. 12:10) and co-heirs with Christ (Rom 8:17). The heavens, all things that were, referred to as being created by the Son, are the spiritual and physical structures. This is the intent of the references at John 1:3 regarding the creation and 1Corinthians 8:6 regarding the universe (J� BV<J" or ta panta) and humans. Colossians 1:15-17 specifically allocates the creation of all things visible and invisible. The creation of thrones or lordships or rulers or authorities, through him and for him, cannot refer to the Council of the Elohim. The creation by Christ of the lordships (6LD4`J0J,H or kuriotetes) is not of the entities.
If that were so then it would involve the creation of God who is the supreme kurios. Thus we are dealing with the powers and not the Beings; the thrones and the structure of the heavens and their government.
Ephesians 1:22, 3:9 show that it was God who created all things and placed them under the feet of Christ and made him head of all things for the Church. This was done so that the rulers and authorities in the heavens would understand through the Church the manifold wisdom of God. These things were done to demonstrate that God has highly exalted Christ (Phil. 2:10) which logically he could not have been always. Yet God used Christ as the leader and primary instrument of the creation of the ages (Heb. 11:3). Christ created the world (Heb. 1:2) (which is actually the ages or the aeons as we see) and reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature (Heb. 1:3). Hebrews 2:10 refers to the all things (J� BV<J" or ta panta) which constitute the universe.
Hebrews 2:11 states that He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin (©<ÎH BV<J,H or enos pantes). Hebrews 11:3 allegedly states that the world was created by a word of God (ÕZ:"J4 2,@Ø or pneumati theou) (see Marshall). The Logos is not identified as being involved and more particularly the word translated as created is identified by Marshall as meaning adjusted (6"J0DJ\F2"4 or katertisthia) and the world is not adjusted but rather the ages ("Æä<"H or aionas). Thus the ages were adjusted by a word of God so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear. This is a concept of creation by adjustment of the space/time equation which has not yet been addressed. Romans 11:36 refers to God as the source and object of all things, not Christ.
The rest of the elohim referred to in the Bible have subordinate but composite authority with Christ. They have dominion over the celestial structure. This composite elohim (under Jesus Christ) created in accordance with the will of God. One of them, the covering cherub termed Satan, and those subordinate to him, created contrary to God's will, in rebellion (see Creation: From Anthropomorphic Theology to Theomorphic Anthropology (No. B5)). It is a logical absurdity to suggest that Christ could be created infallible, yet the other members of the Host were given free moral agency such that they could choose to obey or sin. Christ's success stemmed from his obedience not from his infallibility. His success was known from the prescience of God. He is given dominion pursuant to his obedience and faith. The dominion over the celestial creation and hence the power of the Christ and the Host in creation is to be extended to mankind after the second resurrection from Deuteronomy 4:19.
The New Catholic Encyclopedia (N.C.E.) article ‘Trinity, Holy’, Vol. XIV, McGraw Hill, N.Y., 1967, p. 296, makes the most extraordinary assertion concerning the doctrine of Hippolytus.
Hippolytus in his refutation of Noetus (10) and the exaggerated identification of Christ with the Father, insists that God was multiple from the beginning.
This is simply false from a comparison with the actual text of Hippolytus (C. Noetus 10) above. The same authority holds that:
Tertullian, combatting the same attitude (Adv. Prax. 5), all but explicitly personalizes this eternal multiplicity. The Word stands forth and is other than the Father though still within the Godhead in the manner suggested by human reflection, as internal discourse is in some sense another, a second in addition to oneself, though yet within oneself.
This form involves the same logic as Noetianism and Sabellianism and is seriously incoherent.
Tertullian holds from Against (Adv.) Praxeas that:
This one only God has also a Son, His Word, who proceeded from Himself, by whom all things were made...All are of one, by unity (that is) of substance; while the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded, which distributes the Unity into a Trinity, placing in their order the three Persons- the Father, the Son and the Holy [Spirit]: three however, not in condition but in degree; not in substance but in form; not in power but in aspect; yet of one substance, and of one condition, and of one power inasmuch as He is One God, from whom these degrees and forms and aspects are reckoned, under the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy [Spirit]... (II);
Tertullian also says that the Father raised the Son from the dead (II). Thus Tertullian makes important distinctions in the interrelationship of the three entities which are aspects of the operation of God in degree. The Son and the Spirit are processions from the Father and subordinate aspects of His manifestation. Tertullian gave the Trinity a numerical order and distribution (III). He also held that the Monarchy of God came from the Father (III). But that it was equally the Son's being held by both (III) being committed to the Son by the Father (IV).
Tertullian held that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father through the Son. Tertullian holds (IV) that the Father and the Son are two separate persons. Thus, it might be asserted that true Ditheism (termed also Binitarianism) commenced with Tertullian (cf. Ps. 45:6-7).
He who subjected (all things) and He to whom they were subjected - must necessarily be two different Beings.
However, Tertullian says at Chapter V that before all things God was alone.
For before all things God was alone - being in Himself and for Himself universe, and space, and all things. Moreover He was alone, because there was nothing external to Him but Himself.
The fact that He possessed reason made him in fact not alone and Tertullian holds that this faculty of reason termed by the Greeks logos was the faculty from the beginning which was more correctly reason rather than word as he had reason but did not speak. Thus Tertullian makes the distinction that Christ is the reason of God and that this reason must have been instantiated in the divine essence from the beginning. The argument is open to various objections. The first error is that Christ was the entire aspect of Word and Wisdom and not just a manifestation of those aspects. Thus he was Logos as part of The Logon (following an accusative/nominative distinction as we have noted from God Revealed, Book One). The logos that appeared to man was Christ. If Christ was with God before the beginning, as Tertullian states that God had reason even before the beginning, then Christ is an attribute of God which is capable of distribution but is incapable of isolation to a single entity. It is absurd to suggest that Christ apart from God renders God without reason or wisdom and hence not God.
Christ was the beginning of the creation of God (Rev. 3:14). We are thus identifying the beginning as understood by the early theologians as the beginning of creation which began time. Tertullian holds that only God existed before the beginning in his abiding perpetuity (V), distinct from and greater than the Son (IX) who is both Word and Wisdom (VI). God did not become Father until after the creation of the Word (VII) to effect the creation (Adv. Hermog. 3). God the Father thus stood outside of time and all other beings did not. Only He is the Supreme God. The N.C.E. states that
By the middle of the 3[r]d century, as one may see reflected in Novatian's treatise De Trintate, the Roman Church, originally cool towards this stress on otherness and plurality, had come to incorporate Tertullian's main insights. Novatian, moreover, insists (ch. 31) quite frankly on the unequivocal eternity of father and sonship in the Godhead. (op. cit., p. 297)
As can be seen above, the later teachings, while incorporating some of Tertullian's sentiments, became based on Novatian's concept of co-eternality in opposition to the express words of Tertullian. Thus the dogma was a hybrid construction of the third century Church. It was not based upon the biblical narrative but upon gradually developing faulty theology. The comments above indicate that the authorities are incorrectly cited, totally reversing the meaning of the texts, which seemingly indicates selected readings.
The eastern school centred on Alexandria and writing close to the time of Hippolytus and Tertullian had incorporated the teaching, commencing with Clement (above), of the Son as a generation of the Father. But Clement was subordinationist, as were all the early theologians. Clement's successor was Origen.
Origen is clearly subordinationist:
We declare that the Son is not mightier than the Father, but inferior to Him. And this belief we ground on the saying of Jesus Himself: 'The Father who sent me is greater than I.' (Con. Cels.,VIII, xv)
We know, therefore, that He is the Son of God, and that God is His Father. And there is nothing extravagant or unbecoming the character of God in the doctrine that He should have begotten such an only Son; and no one will persuade us that such a one is not a Son of the unbegotten God and Father. If Celsus has heard something of certain persons holding that the Son of God is not the Son of the Creator of the universe, that is a matter which lies between him and the supporters of such an opinion. (Con. Cels., VIII, xiv)
Origen as the successor to Clement in the Alexandrian School:
envisioned the universe along Neoplatonist lines of hierarchical extrapolation. At the utterly transcendent apex, there is God the Father (De Princ. 1.1.6), alone source without source or, to use Origen's favourite term (e.g., In Ioan. 2.10.75), ungenerate (•(X<<0J@H or agennetos). But (De Princ. 1.2.3) the Father has from all eternity generated a Son, and (In Ioan. 2.10. 75) through his Son the Word, he has brought forth the Holy Spirit. The three, Origen maintains in the same passage, are three distinct individuals [hence persons] or *hypostases [cf. In Ioh. 2,10,75]. On the other hand (Frag. in Hebr.), with explicit reference here to Father and Son, they share together a 'community of substance.' for the Son, he adds a moment later is 'of the same substance' [*homoousios Ï:@@bF4@H] as the Father. (N.C.E., p.297).
J. N. D. Kelly (Early Christian Doctrines) says of Origen’s theory of the Hypostases that:
This affirmation that each of the Three is a distinct hypostasis from all eternity, not just (as for Tertullian and Hippolytus) as manifested in the 'economy', is one of the chief characteristics of his doctrine, and stems directly from the idea of eternal generation. Hupostasis and ousia were originally synonyms, the former Stoic and the latter Platonic, meaning real existence or essence, that which is a thing is; but while hupostasis retains this connotation in Origen [e.g. In Ioh 20,22,182f.; 32,16,192f.], he more frequently gives it the sense of individual subsistence, and so individual existent. The error of Modalism, he contends [ibid.. 10,37,246: cf. ib. 2.2.16; In Matt. 17,14.], lies in treating the Three as numerically indistinguishable (:¬ *4"NXD,4< Jè •D42:è or me diapherin to ariethmo), separable only in thought, 'one not only in essence but also in subsistence'...(p. 129)
From De Orat. 15,1; C. Cels. 8,12, Origen holds the true teaching to be that the Son "is other in subsistence than the Father". The Father and the Son are "two things in respect of Their Persons, but one in unanimity, harmony and identity of will" (see also Kelly, ibid.). Kelly says that:
Thus while really distinct, the Three are from another point of view one; as he expresses it [Dial. Heracl. 2], 'we are not afraid to speak in one sense of two Gods, in another sense of one God' (ibid.).
Origen thus held the Father to be theologically prior to the Son and that the Son was a product of the Father. He holds the unity to be a moral one rather than an assumed and incoherent Modalism. Origen relates the marriage of man and wife as one flesh as symbolic of this and also equates the human relationship of the elect with Christ as being of one spirit. Thus, on a higher plane again, Father and Son though distinct are one God. Kelly holds that though Origen seems to speak of Christ as a creature, this is as a conscious concession to Proverbs 8:22 and Colossians 1:15 and that it should not be pressed. He participates in the divine nature by being united to the Father's nature (In Ioh. 2,2,16; 2,10,76; 19,2,6). Kelly states that:
One must be careful, however, not to attribute to Origen any doctrine of consubstantiability between Father and Son.
Origen's union of the Father and the Son is one of love, will and action (Kelly, discounting the texts surviving in Rufinus' whitewashed Latin translation, ibid., p. 130). Origen states of the Holy Spirit (Frag. in Hebr. PG 14, 1308):
He supplies those who, because of Him and their participation in Him, are called sanctified with the matter, if I may so describe it, of their graces. This same matter of graces is effected by God, is ministered by Christ, and achieves individual subsistence (ßN,FJfF0H or huphestoses) as the Holy Spirit.(see also Kelly ibid.).
Kelly (pp. 130-131) considers from this that the ultimate ground of the being of the Holy Spirit is the Father but that it is mediated to the Spirit by the Son, from whom also the Spirit derives all its attributes (cf. ibid., 2,10,76).
The three are eternally and really distinct but they are not a Triad of disparate beings. The error is in the conclusion that the Son imbues the Spirit with all its attributes rather than being its controller in the elect. Co-eternality is logically compromised. The failure to understand the nature of the Spirit in the monotheist control of the elect is the fundamental error here.
The Platonist emanationism dictated that the structure descended in these forms from the Father and thus the Spirit became the third form rather than the animating agency and the means by which Christ became one with God. Through the Spirit humanity could become one as Christ was but on a conditional basis which the Greeks appear to have rejected. The intrusion of neo-Platonism into Christianity is widespread (see Mysticism). The failure to understand the distinction made by Origen above set the stage for the Council of Nicæa some 100 years later. The oneness of the substance was the oneness conferred by the substance of the Holy Spirit, which was of itself an attribute of God. Origen held that only the Father is God from Himself ("ÛJ`2,@H or autotheos); (In Ioan. 2.2.17);
and in Origen's mind (C. Cels. 5.39) Christians rightly refer to the Son as a 'secondary' (*,bJ,D@H or deuteros) deity. (N.C.E., ibid.).
Origen's postulation of eternal creation negated the concept of the co-eternity of Christ. Augustine later held that time began with the movement of the angels. The concept is more correctly that time began with the creation of the elohim. Only God the Father or Eloah stood outside of time in His abiding perpetuity. Thus only He was omniscient and Christ was a second or deuteros theos. The concept of the Holy Spirit proceeding through Christ led to the inaccurate conclusion that Christ thus created the Holy Spirit. From above, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone. The Spirit is given to the subordinate entity and proceeds through the subordinate elohim to the Sons of God. This system was extant in the angelic Host before the creation of the human species. There were a multitude of Sons of God, including Satan (Job 1:6), under their Morning Stars at the creation of the earth (Job 38:7). The question that then arose and which became of importance in the middle of the third century was as to whether the subordinationism was one of being or merely one of order of procession. The Greeks took up Origen's schema in the latter half of the third century. Some, such as Theognostus of the catechal school at Alexandria, emphasised the Son's kinship with the Father. However, the Son was considered to be a creature with his activity restricted to rational beings. He also declared that his substance or ousia (using the Platonic term rather than hypostases) was derived out of the substance of the Father (see Kelly, Early Church Doctrines, p. 133). Others emphasised his subordinationism.
Origen's disciple Dionysius, Pope of Alexandria, because of an outbreak of Sabellianism in the Lybian Pentapolis in the late fifties of the third century, wrote rebutting Modalism. He thrust the personal distinction between the Father and the Son into the foreground. The Sabellians had one of his letters to bishops Ammonius and Euphranor highlighting this aspect which Kelly (p. 134) alleges was indiscreet. Dionysius, Pope of Rome, wrote to Dionysius, Pope of Alexandria, (Pope was the ordinary title of eminent Bishops especially that of Alexandria since the time of Heraclus c. 233-249 (Eusebius, Church History, vii, 7,4)), demanding assurances that the Origenist insistences on three hypostases or three individual entities neither implied separation nor compromised co-eternity (apud. Athan., De decr. Nic. syn. 26). Alexandria agreed to some extent in their reply (apud. Atan., De sent. Dion. 14-18). The Sabellians complained that the Origenists were making a sharp division amounting to separation between Father and Son. This was opposed and limited by the Novationists at Rome who influenced Bishop Dionysius, the Pope. Athanasius tried (De sent. Dion. 4) to whitewash Dionysius of Alexandria a century later but Basil (Ep. 9.2) maintained that he had gone to the opposite extreme in anti-Sabellian zeal.
Why would the issue of the position of Christ in relation to God be of such importance when it has no biblical basis? Why would it only become of significance in the middle of the third century? The answer lies in the mystery and sun cults.
It has been seen from earlier development, and above, that the Bible and the early Church theologians were subordinationist and Unitarian. God the Father was the God and Father of the Messiah who was the firstborn of many brothers (Rom. 8:29). The Holy Spirit is the mechanism by which all the Sons of God, the angels included, reach this position of unity with God. Christ was one of a multitude of the spiritual Sons of God, but he was the only born (monogenes) (Son of) God (hence monogenese theos), the first begotten (prototokos) of the heavenly Host as the high priest of the elohim. This understanding began to be lost through the syncretism of the early Church. The mystery cults had an effect on the theology and ritual of the early Church. This position is developed in Mysticism.
Bacchiocchi (loc. cit.) traced the effect of the Sun cults on the transition from Sabbath to Sunday worship and the introduction of pagan festivals such as Christmas and Easter. Christmas did not enter Christianity until 475 in Syria. Easter entered Christianity in Rome in 154 under Anicetus and the schism was created in 192 CE under Victor. The transition from the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Passover to the pagan Easter was quite extended. Converts to Christianity from the Mystery/Sun cults increased pressure for the syncretisation and the de-Judification of the law and the festivals (see Bacchiocchi, op. cit.) which were based on the lunar and not the solar calendar. This syncretic infusion built up to a climax in the Council of Nicæa. The biblical cosmology was based upon the sole and transcendent authority of Eloah. This had serious implications for the inviolate nature of the law. The alteration of the system could only be logically validated if a process could be established which elevated Christ to an equality with God and then gave authority to the Church to exercise such authority as might be construed as being conferred on the Church.
The first inroads into the law were on the question of the Passover and weekly Sabbath. The establishment of Sunday as a compulsory day of worship commenced with the Council of Elvira (c. 300). It was no accident that Nicæa decided the issue of the Passover and the establishment of the pagan festival of Easter. It was no accident that the next issue decided was the Sabbath question where, at the Council of Laodicea c. 366 (the date is uncertain), the Council, at Canon 29, prohibited Sabbath keeping and established Sunday as the official day of worship of the Church. Thus the stage was set for what was perceived as the removal of the so-called Judaising elements of the Christian faith. What ensued was Paganism within Christianity.
Continue on to see how the later writers deceived Christianity as to the history in Binitarian and Trinitarian Misrepresentation of the Early Theology of the Godhead (No. 127B)