It is obvious from history that the concept of a ‘Triune God’ was foreign to the thinking of many Christian men and women well into the second century, and the beginning of the third, but even later as an official doctrine.
The New Catholic Encyclopedia states, “The formulation ‘one God in three Persons’ was not solidly established, certainly not fully assimilated into Christian life and its profession of faith prior to the end of the 4th century. But it is precisely this formulation that has first claim to the title of the Trinitarian dogma. Among the Apostolic Fathers, there had been nothing even remotely approaching such a mentality of perspective”. New Catholic Encyclopedia. 1967. Vox X1V p299.
Heresies were developing well before the third century that undermined certain parts of the doctrine of God. To mention a few. Nestorianism (Christ’s manhood was divided from His divinity); Monophysitism-Monotheilitism (Christ was not truly man); Monarchianism, of which there were two schools of thought: Dynamic (Christ was only human, but with divine power); Modalism (one God who acted out three roles; as the Father He created, as the Son He Redeemed, and as the Holy Spirit, He guides the church); Sabellianism (God was revealed in three modes in the same sense as the sun is bright, hot and round); Gnosticism (Keepers of secret traditions supposedly received from Christ)
In the middle of all these perversions, which emerged from the Western Empire of Rome, there were those who stood firm for the belief in one God the Father, and His only begotten Son Jesus Christ, but for this they began to suffer persecution.
One of these men was Lucian, a presbyter of Antioch, who founded a college in Antioch, the Eastern part of the Empire. It is from here he endeavoured to counteract the dangerous ecclesiastical alliance between Rome and Alexandria. “The wrath of the papal party was brought down upon Lucian because he refused to participate in a questionable movement to exalt on fraudulent grounds the primacy of the bishop of Rome” Truth Triumphant p49. Benjamin J Wilkinson.
Lucian collected precious copies of the Scriptures that he might safeguard them from being tampered with, as “mutilations of the Sacred Scriptures abounded” in Rome and Alexandria. Vigilantes and His Times. Gilly p116. Institutes of Ecclesiastical History. Bk 1. Cent 3. Pt 2. Ch 3. Mosheim. Quoted in Truth Triumphant. p 50.
“It was a critical hour in the history of the church, but at that time God raised up a tireless champion of truth – Lucian” of Antioch. Ecclesiastical History. Bk 3. Ch 5. Sozomen. Section; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.
These copies of the Scriptures, “verified, guarded and transmitted by Lucian, left a heritage for which all generations should be thankful”. (These are some of the manuscripts called the Received Text from which the King James Bible was translated. Ibid p50. Erasmus continued this work of Lucian, although few have heard of the labours of the presbyter of Antioch, who died a martyr for his faith)
Another of these champions was Arius, a pupil of Lucian who became a presbyter of Alexandria. He was a socially attractive, eloquent preacher who stood for Bible truth.
His bishop, Alexander, believed that Christ was begotten of the Father, but assented that “He had always been”. Arius made a violent protest, charging him with believing in an “unbegotten begotten one”. The Two Republics. A T Jones p333.
Arius wrote and published books on the subject of the doctrine of God, teaching that “the Son is not unbegotten… He existed not before He was begotten, or created, or purposed, or established. For He was not unbegotten. We are persecuted because we say that the Son had a beginning, but that God was without beginning.” Ibid. (Obviously the use of the word ‘created’ in the above statement must be taken in context with the rest of the sentence, and not as ‘created’ standing alone)
The most popular work of Arius was a book of songs called ‘Thalia’ (Songs of Joy), in which he set forth his beliefs. Soon men and women all through the region were singing the disputed doctrines. As a result “the controversy spread everywhere, and as it spread, it deepened.” Ibid p332.
In AD264, a synod was convened at Antioch to consider the beliefs of Paul, bishop of Antioch. He had been attacked by Lucian for teaching Modalistic Monarchianism, which denied the existence of the Son as a separate and distinct Person from the Father. The synod condemned Paul, appealing to the Emperor to support its condemnation, for the first time setting the dangerous precedent of appealing to the civil power in matters of religion. A History of Heresy. David Christie-Murray p43.
The synod’s findings rejected the use of the word ‘homoousion’, meaning ‘consubstantiality’ or ‘one substance’, as it supported the belief of bishop Paul that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were one substance, as a singular God. (Some write homoousios)
In AD 325, the Emperor Constantine summoned a Church Council of 318 bishops. It was the first General or Ecumenical Council of the Christian Church, and was held in Nice (also called Nicaea).
As Constantine desired a Christian Empire, he wished to see it firmly based upon the one orthodox faith. Therefore, “it was the duty of the Nicene Council to elaborate the content of that faith. Nothing could have symbolized more clearly the new relation between Church and State than the outward circumstances of the gathering at Nicaea.” The Orthodox Church. Timothy Ware p27.
The Emperor himself presided “like some heavenly messenger of God”, as one of those present, Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea expressed it. (At the conclusion of the Council the bishops dined with the Emperor, which, according to Eusebius was “splendid beyond description”. Ibid)
“These Councils fulfilled a double task. First, they clarified and articulated the visible organization of the Church… Secondly, and more important, the Councils defined once and for all the Church’s teaching upon the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith – the Trinity and the Incarnation… To prevent men from deviating into error and heresy, they drew a fence around the mystery”. Ibid p28.
The first two Councils (held in the fourth century), concentrated upon the person of Christ in His incarnation, and the formation of the doctrine of the Trinity. The remaining five Councils (during the fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries), although they continued discussing the incarnation, concentrated on the Holy Spirit, giving Him the same co-equal and co-eternal status they had assigned to the Son.
At Nicaea, there were three parties: those who sided with Alexander, those who sided with Arius, and those who were non-committal, hoping to act as mediators in the debate. Some historians call these Semi-Arians, true believers in Christ as the begotten Son, even pre-dating Arius.
Arius was not a bishop, but he had been invited to the council at the command of Constantine, and during the council was frequently called upon to “express his opinions”. Athanasius was only a deacon, but he had come with his bishop (Alexander), and like Arius, played no small part in the discussion. He was even responsible for drawing up the initial creed. (This is not the Athanasius credited to the later, more detailed Athanasian Creed of AD381)
When the draft of the creed was brought to the council, and it was discovered that it had been signed by eighteen Arian bishops, the opponents broke into a wild uproar, tore the document to pieces and expelled Arius from the assembly.
In the commotion, Eusebius of Caesarea presented an old creed to try and bring the parties together. It clearly reflected the beliefs of the early church fathers, for it stated that Christ was the “first offspring of God… who had received power and dominion with divinity itself, and power and honour from the Father…” Eusebius Ecclesiastical History p15-17.
As soon as this statement of beliefs was read to the council, the party of Arius all signified their willingness to subscribe to it. “But this was the very thing Alexander and Athanasius did not want, and they determined to find some form of words which no Arian could receive”. Two Republics p348.
In the discussions, one of the Arian bishops happened to state that the word ‘homoousion’ (constantiability) was an absurd proposition, and this gave the Alexander party the very thing they desired. (The Arians did not care to use this unbiblical word, but the Catholic party made a great distinction between ‘like substance’ and ‘one or same substance’. If a choice must be made, the Arians preferred ‘homoiousion’ or ‘like substance’, and thus the words became the dividing line)
As Constantine had already approved the creed presented by Eusebius, he now decided to gain the assent of the most powerful orthodox part of the assembly, by inserting ‘homoousion’ into the creed. “Constantine ordered the addition of the disputed word, and the party of Alexander and Athanasius, now assured of the authority of the emperor, required the addition of other phrases to the same purpose, so that when the creed was finally written out in full”… the Arian party refused to sign it. Ibid p348.340.
The Creed reads in part: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things both visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, only begotten, that is to say, of the substance (homoousion) of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance (homoousion) with the Father, by whom all things were made….”
However, although the Catholic party was more than willing to adopt the creed, there was concern by some over the meaning of the disputed word ‘homoousion’. Remembering that it had been rejected by the synod of Antioch in AD264 as evidence for the teachings of bishop Paul, they feared that the word would be viewed in the same way, implying that the Father and the Son were the same Person. Therefore, they wanted it made clear that although the Son was of the same substance as the Father, He was “not as a part of the Father – the same Being”. Taken from a letter by Eusebius Pamphilus of Caesarea to the church at Caesarea in A Historical View of the Church of Nice, with a Translation of Documents by Isaac Boyle. p44-46
Eusebius had a difficult time himself signing the creed. He deliberated all day, consulting the Emperor (to whom he was an adviser), as to the difference between ‘homoousion’ and ‘homoiousion’. Constantine settled it for Eusebius when he said, “Homoousion could be understood as Homoiousion”
Even during this council, the closeness of the two words proved to be an embarrassment when Constantine asked the presiding bishop what the difference was between the two terms. The bishop replied, “They are both alike”. Laughter broke out in the assembly, and the word ‘Heresy’ was flung into the air by the Papists. Truth Triumphant p92.
When it came time for the signing of the creed, seventeen bishops refused to sign. “The emperor then commanded all to sign it under penalty of banishment. This brought to terms all of them but five.” Two Republics p350. These men were removed from their bishoprics, and Catholics put in their places.
The following edict was published by Constantine against Arius, as the chief expositor of the Arian doctrines: “To the bishops and people: Since Arius has imitated wicked and impious persons, it is just that he should undergo the like ignominy… it seems fit both that Arius and such as hold his sentiments should be denominated (heretics)… and if any treatise composed by Arius should be discovered, let it be consigned to the flames… if any one shall be detected in concealing a book compiled by Arius…. The penalty for this offense shall be death…” Ibid p350.351.
Eusebius had signed the decree, thus remaining at his post, however, he justified his act in a letter to Arian believers not present at the council. “We thought it well to assent to this explanation, as conveying the pious doctrine, that the Son was of the Father; but not, however, a part of the Father…. we approved also of the words ‘begotten, not made’, since the word make, they said, was common to the other creatures which were made by the Son, and to which He has nothing similar…
He was of the Father, by a mode of generation, which can neither be conceived nor expressed by any created intelligence… But by the expression ‘consubstantial with the Father’ nothing else is intended, than that the Son of God has no similitude with created beings, but resembles in all things the Father only, by whom He was begotten…
We finally embraced, without further contention, those expressions which were found to be unexceptionable, when, on a candid examination of the sense of the words, it appeared that they entirely agreed with those admitted by ourselves, in the exposition of faith which we at first proposed”. A letter written by Eusebius Pamphilus of Caesarea to the church at Caesarea in A Historical View of the Council of Nice, with a translation of Documents by Isaac Boyle. p44-46
It may well be that the original intent appears to be in the creed, however, the issue had become a test as to whether one was willing to make a stand for the Word of God against the teachings of the Catholic party.
Constantine had not only chosen to go with the powerful party, but he “professed himself the interpreter of the new phrase”. It appears that Eusebius compromised his stand, based on the interpretation of the Emperor. Few remained firm until the end.
Arius shows that he understood the Catholic intent, for in a letter he said, “He has even expelled us from the city as atheists, because we do not assent to…. God is always, the Son is always. The Father and the Son are co-existent. The Son unbegotten, co-exists with God, and is always begotten: without being begotten, He is begotten…” Letter by Arius to Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia (not the same Eusebius as quoted earlier), taken from A Historical View of the Council of Nice, with a translation of Documents by Isaac Boyle p39.40.
He then added, “Eusebius your brother, bishop of Caesarea, and Theodotus and Paulinus, Athanasius, Gregonius and Actius, and all the bishops of the East, affirm, that God, who is without beginning, existed before the Son, they have been condemned….” Ibid.
Immediately after the council, a charge was circulated that all who were called Arians believed that Christ was a created being, but according to the historian, “it is doubtful if many believed Christ to be a created being. Generally, those evangelical bodies who opposed the papacy and who were branded as Arians confessed both the divinity of Christ and that He was begotten, not created, by the Father. They recoiled from other extreme deductions and speculations concerning the Godhead.” Truth Triumphant. p92. Footnote. “Limborch doubts that Arius himself ever held that Christ was created instead of being begotten”. The History of the Inquisition. Phillipus Limborch p95. Footnote.
Many who believe in the Trinity today, use the term ‘created’ as a ‘straw man’ to argue that if Jesus was created, He could not be a Saviour. This is true, but the ‘charge’ is false. It is also used to argue against the Son having a beginning, but if He was begotten, He had a beginning, even if it was way back in eternity. But the fact that Christ was begotten, does not mean He is not divine. A son always has the same nature as his father. So it is with Christ, God’s divine Son. It is clear that the same charges are being used today that were used back in the days of Arius.
When reading the original Nicene creed, it is easy to believe it is truth, however, the single word ‘homoosion’, meaning ‘constantiability’ (one or same substance) carries a world of error. (In English, we would think “of the substance of the Father”, means ‘of the same nature as the Father’. But to the Catholic Church, it means something different; exactly what, is ‘a mystery’)
The new 800-page Catholic Catechism says, (255) “The divine persons are relative to one another. Because it does not divide the divine unity, the real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another…
(266) Now this is the Catholic faith: We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son’s is another, the Holy Spirit’s is another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.” Athanasian Creed. New Catholic Catechism. p67.70.
However, creeds are confusing. The Nicene Creed states, “Jesus Christ, the only-begotten of the Father before all worlds”, and the Interdenominational Liturgical Text of the same Creed, “the Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten.” These certainly sound Arian.
The updated Nicene Creed states, “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only son of God, eternally begotten of the Father… begotten, not made, of one being with the Father…” It is a contradiction of terms to say “eternally begotten”. Christ was either begotten at some point in eternity, which means He had a beginning, or He is an equal, co-eternal God, without beginning. The term ‘Father’ also becomes meaningless if Jesus is not the Son of God.
It is “no wonder that the Celtic, the Gothic, the Waldensian, the Armenian Churches, and the great Church of the East, as well as other bodies, differed profoundly from the Papacy in its metaphysical conceptions of the Trinity and consequently in the importance of the Ten Commandments”. Truth Triumphant p94. 222.
The New Catechism, on the subject of ‘The Holy Trinity in the Teaching of the Faith”, says (249) “From the beginning, the revealed truth of the Holy Trinity has been at the very root of the Church’s living faith… (250) During the first centuries the Church sought to clarify its Trinitarian faith, both to deepen its own understanding of the faith, and to defend it against the errors that were deforming it. This clarification was the work of the early councils, aided by the theological work of the Church Fathers and sustained by the Christian people’s sense of the faith… (253) The Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the ‘consubstantial Trinity’..” New Catholic Catechism p66.67.
The Council of Nicaea started a religious controversy that never ceased, and from that famous gathering, under the sanction of a united Church and State, the Catholic Church commanded the submission of believers to new doctrines.
During the fourth century, Theodosius issued no less than fifteen severe edicts, more especially against those who rejected the doctrine of the Trinity; and to deprive them of every hope of escape, he sternly enacted that “if any laws or rescripts should be alleged in their favour, the judges should consider them as the illegal products of fraud or forgery”. History of the Roman Empire” Vol 3. Chp 27.
However, despite the banishment of the Arian believers, and the edicts issued against them, the teachings did not die. In AD 327, Constantia, Constantine’s sister, an Arian in belief, died. In her dying moments she told her brother that Arius had been unjustly condemned, and asked him to reconsider his verdict.
Soon afterwards, Constantine restored Arius and two other leading Arians. He then commanded the bishop of Constantinople to receive Arius into fellowship, but the bishop absolutely refused, praying that Arius might die. That prayer was answered, but it is doubtful God had anything to do with it. Two Republics p358.359. Poisoning was suspected.
After the death of Constantine, his three sons succeeded him: Constantine 11, Constantius, and Constans, each taking a portion of the Empire. Constantine 11 was soon killed in a war with his brother Constans, and the kingdom was divided between the two remaining sons. As Constans was an ardent Catholic, his half of the kingdom became Catholic, and as Constantius was a zealous Arian, his portion became Arian. Ten years later Constans was murdered, and Constantius became the sole imperial authority, determining that the whole world would become Arian.
In AD355, a council was called by Constantius in Milan, which became the reverse of Nicaea, and Trinitarians were banished from their parishes. By AD 360, the Arian doctrine had become orthodox.
During these years, the belief may well have been correct, but the controversial spirit of the leadership of Arians was no different to that of the Trinitarians. But, now all councils were filled with Arians.
Eradication of Heretics
The battle between the Trinitarianism and Arianism had shaken the Catholic Church to its very base, but it would not be defeated. At the opportune time, there arose a man who would help propel the church into its prophetic elevated position. That man was Justinian, the Emperor or Rome.
When Justinian gained power at Constantinople, he resolved to purge the church of heresy, in the West as well as in his paternal dominions. An edict was issued from Constantinople against the Arian Christians in all the Mediterranean states. Those who refused to accept the established creed of the church were to suffer the penalty of excommunication.
Justinian “sent ambassadors to the kings of the Franks, and adjured them, by the common ties of alliance and religion, to join in the holy enterprise against the Arians”. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Edward Gibbon. Ch 41. Vol 1V p175.
When Theodoric, the Arian Ostragoth king of Italy, heard of Justinian’s decree, he sent an embassy to Constantinople to demand the rights of religious freedom. The appeal was refused, and Justinian undertook to recover Italy.
“In the year AD533, the armament proceeded to the African coast. A battle was fought with the Vandals, and Belisarius was completely victorious. (AD534)… Belisarius made one sortie after another, hurling back his inveterate assailants…. In AD537, the Goths (Ostragoths) gathered around the Eternal City, but Belisarius held out until re-enforcements arrived from the East, and after a siege of a year and nine days’ duration, Rome won the day.” (AD538) Source Book p480.481.
“It was reckoned that during the reign of Justinian, Africa lost five million inhabitants; thus Arianism was extinguished in that region, not by any enforcement of conformity, but by the extermination of the race which had introduced and professed it…” History of the Christian Church. J.C. Robertson. Vol 1. p521. 1858. Source Book p490.
“The Arian heresy (of the Vandals) was proscribed, and the race of these remarkable conquerors was in a short time exterminated. A single generation sufficed to confound their women and children in the mass of the Roman inhabitants of the province, and their very name was soon totally forgotten.” A History of Greece. George Finlay. Vol 1 p232. 1877. Source Book p490.
When the third opposing horn was destroyed (AD538), the Papacy began its 1260-year dominion. (The first horn, the Heruli, was destroyed in AD493; the second, the Vandals, destroyed in AD534. All were Arian Christians)
Thus the Roman Catholic Church could sing its Te Deum to the ‘Blessed Trinity’, a harbinger of the Jubilee Celebrations that took place during the year 2000.
John Paul 11 said prior to these celebrations, “The actual celebration of the Great Jubilee will take place simultaneously in the Holy Land, in Rome and in the local Churches throughout the world.
Especially in this phase, the phase of celebration, the aim will be to give glory to the Trinity, from whom everything in the world and in history comes and to whom everything returns. This mystery is the focus of the three years of immediate preparation: from Christ and through Christ, in the Holy Spirit, to the Father. In this sense the Jubilee celebration makes present in an anticipatory way the goal and fulfilment of the life of each Christian and of the whole Church in the Triune God.” The Third Millennium. John Paul 11 p78.79.
For twelve hundred and sixty years, the Papacy ruled the world, eradicating every person who opposed its teachings, and now, at the end of the world, she will do the same.
But not only is the Trinity orthodox to the Papacy, it is also the teaching of Protestantism. Few denominations have escaped the snare of Rome. Few will escape at the end.
Dear Reader, what about you?
Think About It
According to the Bible, just before the second coming of Christ, there is to be a worldwide religious law that will command every man, woman, and child to obey the “beast and his image”. Revelation 13:4.8.15. Those who do will be condemned of God.
“If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation, and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb….” Revelation 14:9.10.
There is no stronger language in the Bible.
To obey a religious law – the combination of Church and State – is equivalent to “worshipping the beast”. Thus they are saying – this is who I worship.
Who do You Worship?
This short article on Ecclesiastical history may have small points that differ from the book 'Nicaea and the World', which has far more detail. This article was written many years earlier and since then further information has come to light, however, sometimes choosing the true history on certain points is difficult. Certainly, the basic information gives a reasonable picture of that history.