The Trinity Confusion
One hundred years after the death of the apostle John, spiritual darkness was fast settling down upon the Christian community, for “the rulers of the church from early times were prepared, should the occasion arise, to adopt, or imitate, or sanction the existing rites and customs of the populace, as well as the philosophy of the educated class.” Development of Christian Doctrine. John Henry Cardinal Newman. p371.372. 1906.
As time passed, these religious institutions handed down to them by their ancestors, were maintained and defended with the greatest obstinacy. “Nor do they consider of what character they are, but they feel assured of their excellence and truth on this account, because the ancients have handed them down; and so great is the authority of antiquity that it is said to be a crime to inquire into it. And thus it is everywhere believed as ascertained truth.” The Divine Institutes. Lactantius. Bk 2. Ch 7; Ante-Nicene Father. Vol V11. p50. 1907.
In the course of the fourth century, two developments spread over Christendom; the one ascetic, the other ritual or ceremonial. We are told in various ways by Eusebius, that Constantine, in order “to recommend the new religion to the heathen, transferred into it the outward ornaments to which they had been accustomed in their own.” Development of Christian Doctrine. Cardinal Newman. p373. 1906.
In this setting, it is quite probable the heathen trinity made its way into the church at Rome, although blended with Bible truth, would have taken on a somewhat different appearance.
Edward Gibbons stated, “If paganism was conquered by Christianity, it is equally true that Christianity was corrupted by paganism. The pure Deism of the first Christians…. was changed, by the church of Rome, into the incomprehensible dogma of the trinity. Many of the pagan tenets, invented by the Egyptians and idealized by Plato, were retained as being worthy of belief.” History of Christianity, Edward Gibbon. Preface.
The doctrine of the personality of God was becoming very corrupt, and well before the third century, many variations were being promulgated. To mention a few, Nestorianism (divided Christ’s manhood from His divinity), Monophysitism-Monothelitism (Christ was not truly man), Gnosticism (Devotees of knowledge [secret traditions] received from Christ, heathen poets and philosophers)
Another perversion that arose was called Monarchianism. It was divided into two schools of thoughts: Dynamic (Christ was only human, but with divine power), and Modalism, that there was only God who acted out three roles. He portrayed the role of the Creator as the Father, the Redeemer as the Son, and the Guide for the Church as the Holy Spirit. This second view has adapted the heathen trinity of one god with three heads (or one head with three faces), each face portraying one of the three roles of the triune deity.
Sabellianism was also straight out of heathenism, for it taught that God was revealed in three modes, in the same sense as the sun is bright, hot and round. You will recall the heathen view of the sun in its three stages: rising, noon, and setting, portraying the worship of a triune god.
Naturally, these varying views caused concern to the rising Papacy, not because they were heathen, but a church divided against itself cannot stand any more than a house, and world domination was the Papal aim.
In AD264, a synod was convened at Antioch to consider the beliefs of a bishop in that city who believed in Modalistic Monarchianism. Instead of teaching that the Father and Son were two separate and distinct Persons, he taught that they were the very same Being – one God, who became the Son at the time of the incarnation, and at Pentecost, He became the Holy Spirit.
This branch of Monarchianism claimed that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were ‘homoousios’ – ‘one substance’; or one Being only. Another word used to denote this state was ‘consubstantiability’, meaning the ‘same substance’. In other words, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were not of a ‘like substance’, for this would imply three separate beings, but were three actions of one God-being.
The synod at Antioch rightly condemned this teaching as heresy, however, it was not entirely eradicated. Both Modalistic Monarchianism and Sabellianism have been taught by many Roman Catholics throughout history, and in countries where heathenism abounded, the Papal Church has used pictures of exactly the same three-faced idols of the heathens to denote these beliefs. (See picture on next page)
There is no question that a heathen trinity has entered Catholicism, and although condemned in AD 264, it has still been taught by Roman Catholics.
During the nineteenth century, Modalistic Monarchianism was rife among Roman Catholics, and it is this form of the trinity doctrine that confronted Christians during that era.
One writer stated, “If you can convince me that we are one in this sense, that you are my father, and I your son; and also that I am your father, and you my son, then I can believe in the Trinity.” The Autobiography of Elder Joseph Bates. p204.205. 1868.
John N Loughborough, another Christian of the same century stated, “To believe that doctrine (the Modalistic Monarchianism form of the Trinity), when reading the Scriptures, we must believe that God sent Himself into the world, died to reconcile the world to Himself, raised Himself from the dead, ascended to Himself in heaven, pleads before Himself in heaven to reconcile the world to Himself, and is the only Mediator between man and Himself….” Review & Herald. No. 5. 1861. Vol 18 p184.
Recently a tract arrived in the mail that teaches this very form of the trinity doctrine. It asks in Question No.4. “Do these titles (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) as used in Matthew 28:19 mean that there are three separate and distinct persons in the Godhead? No, they refer to three offices, roles, or relationship to humanity.”
Question No.58. “Can trinitarians show that three divine persons were present when Jesus was baptized by John? Absolutely not. The one, omnipresent God used three simultaneous manifestations. Only one divine person was present – Jesus Christ the Lord.” ‘60 Questions on the Godhead with Bible Answers’. Word Aflame Press (This is not a Roman Catholic tract, but a Protestant group with branches in Victoria, Australia)
The picture below is a German 9th century painting. It is a representation of the heathen belief of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- being one in total substance, as Siamese triplets. Whether it is pictured as three faces or three heads, the concept is heathen, no matter who believes it.
By the fourth century, a most powerful challenge came to the Church of Rome -- the ‘heresy’ of Arianism. “It involved the question of the divinity of Christ and his relation to the Father, and indirectly the whole dogma of the Trinity.” A Dictionary of Christian Biography. Smith and Wace. Vol 1. Art Arianism. p144. 1877. London John Murray.
Although Arius, a presbyter of Alexandra, was not the first to challenge the teaching of Rome on its understanding of God, his challenge led to a series of violent controversies which shook the Roman Empire, especially in the East, to its very base.
The teachings of Arius have been explained by many people, but rarely is there agreement. On one hand, he is believed to have regarded Jesus as a created being, the “beginning of the creation of God”, as this text was explained. Revelation 3:14.
One writer stated of Arianism. “God cannot create the world directly, but only through an agent, the Logos, who is himself created for the purpose of creating the world… Christ is himself a creature, the first creature of God, through whom the Father created other creatures….” A Dictionary of Christian Biography. Smith and Wace. Vol 1 Art. Arianism. p155.156.
This nineteenth century author is dependent upon previous writers, who themselves are dependent upon others, none of whom may have had the writings of Arius. They do not quote Arius, but in their own words, give his supposed belief.
As very few of the Arian manuscripts are extant, we cannot totally refute the above statement, however, as we are seeing the very same charge made against anti-Trinitarians today, it is more than likely the accusations were indeed false.
One author has plainly stated, “An erroneous charge was circulated (in the fourth century) that all who were called Arians believed that Christ was a created being. This stirred up the indignation of those who were not guilty of the charge.” Winds of Doctrine p88. Russell Standish, quoting B.G. Wilkinson in Truth Triumphant p220. (Bracket added)
There are others who believe Arius stood for the Bible truth, and that Christ was the literal only-begotten Son of His heavenly Father. They believe he was simply taking John 3:16 as it reads – “for God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son….”
Note how the two understandings have been blended in the quotation below. “Arius…. held that the Son was begotten of the Father, and therefore not coeternal nor consubstantial with the Father, but created by and subordinate to the Father, though possessing a similar nature…” The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia. Vol 1. Art. Arian p308.
It is no wonder there is confusion as to what Arius actually believed.
Be that as it may, the teachings of Arius caused great concern to the Papal Church. As a result, a council was called in AD325 at Nice (Nicaea), in which church leaders of both persuasions were invited, including Arius, although he was not a bishop. He was permitted to “express his opinions”, but during the proceedings, one bishop angrily jumped up and punched Arius on the nose.
After much discussion, the draft of a creed was drawn up by Athanasius (a deacon who came with his bishop), and circulated among the bishops to read and sign. When it was discovered that eighteen Arian bishops had signed the document, the papal opponents broke into a wild uproar, and tore the document to pieces. At the same time they expelled Arius from the assembly. Eusebius Ecclesiastical History p15-17.
It is quite obvious that the council of Nicaea was not to unite Christendom, but to destroy Arianism.
In the commotion that followed, Eusebius of Caesarea presented an old creed before the council. When it was read, the Arian bishops signified their willingness to subscribe to it, but this was the very thing the Papal party did not want. What could they do to keep the Arians from signing the creed?
In the subsequent discussion, one of the bishops happened to mention the word ‘homoousios’, saying how absurd it was as a proposition of belief. (The Arians accepted the word ‘homoiousios’, meaning ‘like substance’, rather than ‘homoousios’ meaning ‘same substance’, although they cared not for either as neither of them are in the Bible)
This chance comment gave the Papal party the distinguishing mark they were looking for, although even Eusebius had difficulty with the similarity of the words. When he asked Constantine the difference, the Emperor said, “Homoousios could be understood as Homoiousios”.
This closeness proved to be an embarrassment to the council, for when Constantine asked the presiding bishop what the difference was between the two terms, Hosius replied, “They are both alike”. At that, laughter broke out in the assembly, and the word ‘heresy’ was flung into the air by the Papists. Truth Triumphant p92. Benjamin Wilkinson.
Once this amendment was voted upon, the Papists signed the document; and the Arians abstained. Arius and his followers were banished from their church offices, and every known book, paper, and manuscript of Arius were burnt.
(It is important to note, that in spite of the fact that the synod at Antioch sixty years earlier had condemned the word ‘homoousios’, because it meant ‘one identical substance’ as believed by Modalistic Monarchians, the Nicene Council used the very same word to condemn the Arians)
The Nicene Creed reads: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things both visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance (homoousios – the amendment) with the Father by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And He shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And we believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. And we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.” Nicene Creed. English Version AD1549. (It has since been modified to include the word ‘eternal’ referring to the Son, as the Catholic Church believes in ‘eternal generation’)
“What the Apostles’ Creed was content to say, that Jesus was the only Son and Lord, the Nicene Creed accumulated convergent affirmations: he is ‘eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from light, true God from true God, of one Being with the Father’. ” How to Understand the Creed. Jean-Noel Bezancon, Phlippe Ferlay, and Jean-Marie Onfray. Roman Catholic. p53.
The Council of Nicaea began a religious controversy that continued on for at least two hundred years. Many more councils were held, and the “boasted unity of Romanism was gloriously displayed by the diversified councils and confessions of the fourth century… Roads were crowded with bishops thronging to synods….” Truth Triumphant p91.
It was not until the 6th century that a full agreement was reached on the teaching of the Holy Spirit, and its place in the Trinity dogma, now an integral part of Roman Catholicism. “The Mystery of the Trinity is the central doctrine of the Catholic Faith.” Handbook for Today’s Catholic p11.
In AD538, the Arian believers were completely wiped out by the Catholic Church, leaving the Papacy as the sole 'Corrector of heretics'. Anyone opposing the Catholic teaching of the Trinity was exterminated.
In summary of the papal background:
1. Paganism entered the church at Rome during the early centuries, including the heathen teachings about God. As a result, the heathen trinity was brought into the Catholic church. Over the years, it took on many forms.
2. The Catholic Church officially condemned the heathen trinity of Modalistic Monarchianism and Sabbellianism in AD264 at Antioch. Many Catholics have continued to teach this form of heathenism down through the years. (Some Protestant Christians still teach this form of the heathen trinity)
3. The Council of Nicaea in AD325 deliberately condemned the Arians for believing that Jesus had a beginning, without regard as to whether He was created or begotten. The decision of the council was that Christ was eternally begotten, without beginning. Arius said this belief made Christ the “unbegotten begotten One”, a contradiction of terms. He was banished by the council, but later restored by Constantine, with others who were banished.
4. After passing the Nicene Creed, the Arians were proscribed.
The debate over the doctrine of the Trinity continued on until the 6th century, until it was firmly established as Papal dogma.