SHALL WANDER INTO MYTHS" (1)
historical development of the Doctrine of the Trinity
B.C. TO 300 A.D. THE PHILOSOPHICAL BACKGROUND
the ordinary reader it may seem a little strange to commence
a review of the history of a Christian doctrine with a survey
of the teachings and views of Greek philosophers. But in fact
it is impossible to understand the development of the Trinity
without this background. It was not mere rhetoric when St.
Augustine confessed that he was in the dark about the Trinity
until he read the writings of Plato; or when he told some
to go and learn the Trinity from the Platonists.
And Gibbon, in speaking of the Trinity, remarks that Platonic
philosophy 'marvelously anticipated one of the most surprising
discoveries of the Christian revelation'.
Philosophy, literally 'love of wisdom', concerns man's search
for an understanding of the world and himself. By means of
human thought it attempts to explain what knowledge is and
how it is gained. It advances propositions and tries to deduce
conclusions from them by reasoned arguments. It is essentially
a deductive process, no external revelation being admitted.
The early Greeks specialised in this type of abstract reasoning,
which was first established by Socrates and elaborated by
his disciple, Plato.
commenced his voluminous writings in the early 4th century
B.C., covering a wide range of topics. As far as theology
was concerned, his deductions led him to the belief in a Supreme
Being who, because of his absolute transcendence was detached
from and outside the universe, but who manifested himself
in two ways: as Ideas and as the Soul of the Universe. All
created things he brought into being by means of his 'Ideas',
also called the Demiurge. There was also the Soul or Spirit
of the Universe, of which the soul of man was a part. These
three, Supreme Being, Demiurge and World Soul, comprised the
relationship between God and created things, although Plato
himself did not define their relationship with any clarity.
a revision of the famous 6th century B.C. philosopher's ideas,
adopted a similar division into 'Principle of Being', the
Demiurge who acted as creator, and the 'World'. One effect
of Plato's ideas is worth noting. Because all humans participated
in the 'World Soul' he believed that the individual souls
of men were not only immortal but had also pre-existed.
was an extremely moralistic philosophy founded by Zeno of
Citium in Cyprus around 300 BC. In contrast to the Platonists
they believed that the Supreme God was within creation ('immanent')
and that all creation was permeated with Divine Reason which
they called Nous ('Mind') or Logos ('Word').
A part of this Logos was thought to reside in each
human individual, from which he derived his reasoning ability,
the spermatikos logos.
the first century B.C. followers of Plato defined more closely
the relationship between Plato's components of the 'threefold
One'. The Supreme Godhead was the originator of the other
two, who preceded or 'emanated' from him. Later these came
to be known as the Protos Theos ('First God'), Nous
and Psyche. By using the term Nous for the
'second god' Middle Platonists effectively combined the teaching
of Plato and the Stoics.
was the final form of Platonism, reached at the beginning
of the third century A.D., and developed especially by Plotinus
(a fellow student of the famous Origen) at Alexandria. It
combined most of the elements of the preceding philosophies,
propounding the tripartite god of the One, the nous
and the psyche. However, the relationship between
the first two seems to be more closely defined:
original Being first of all throws out the nous,
which is a perfect image of the One and the archetype of
all existing things. It is at once being and thought, ideal
world and idea. As image, the nous corresponds
perfectly to the One, but as derived it is perfectly different.'
nous ('a sort of second god'
(5) ), which 'corresponds perfectly to the One'
is the creator of all things, and within it is included the
gods of the pantheon, and the stars, who were also considered
to be gods.
Dominant in their teaching was the idea of a World Soul, which
bore a similar relationship to the nous as the nous
did to the One. This World Soul embraced innumerable individual
human souls, which could either submit to be ruled by the
nous and survive, or turn aside to sensuality and
lose themselves in the infinite. In either event, as part
of the World Soul, the individual ones pre-existed and were
immortal. It is relevant to our present study that the Christian
Neoplatonists believed in a tripartite division of man into
soul, mind and body: a relationship
that was thought to be derived from a similar tripartite division
in the Godhead, seeing that man was made 'in the image of
God' (Genesis 1.27. see also p. 349).
Gibbon's rather acerbic comments on the Neoplatonists, whilst
possibly an example of his trenchant prose, no doubt contain
more than a grain of truth:
by mistaking the true object of philosophy, their labours
contributed much less to improve than to corrupt the human
understanding. ... they exhausted their strength in the
verbal disputes of metaphysics, attempted to explore the
secrets of the invisible world, and studied to reconcile
Aristotle with Plato, on subjects of which both those philosophers
were as ignorant as the rest of mankind'.
Thus it can be seen that, whatever the differences in detail
among the various theories of the philosophers, one almost
common concept was that the Deity was composed of, or manifested
himself through, three agencies. This idea was to
prove of great significance to the development of the doctrine
of the Trinity. Little sums up the effect of first and second
century philosophy on the evolution of this doctrine:
was then evolved the conception of an Intermediary Divine
Being, identical with the Supreme in essence, yet in dynamic
relation with the generated world, who expressed the Divine
will in the Creation, and continued to act as the Divine
Agent in the administration of the universe. This Being
was variously designated the Idea of Ideas, the First Principle,
the Divine Potency, the Second God, or the Logos, according
to the philosophical prepossessions of the writers. It
was this Logos of the philosophers which was taken up into
Christian theology and made to represent the historical
Jesus Christ, son of God ...'
the almost universal spread of Greek culture and learning
following the conquests of Alexander the Great, the teaching
of the philosophers began to be incorporated into Jewish thought.
In the apocryphal work described as the Wisdom of Solomon,
dating from the 3rd century B.C., concepts such as the immortality
and pre-existence of the soul, hitherto foreign to the Jewish
religion, are introduced (3:1, 8:19-20). As Millman later
said 'Platonism had already modified Judaism'.
Thus by the first century A.D. the Jewish historian Josephus
could describe their belief in Hades and Abraham's bosom as
the respective abiding places of evil and good of departed
It is this importation from Greek philosophy that Jesus uses
in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).
Other examples could be given to show that Judaism had already
become tainted with Greek thought; and it was inevitable that
the newly founded Christian Church should be subject to a
similar process. Some see the denial of the bodily resurrection
by a few in the church at Corinth as a direct result of early
Christians embracing or, more likely, not discarding Platonic
As Stead has recently noted:
the clash between Platonic and biblical views of the soul
confused the Christian teaching on the afterlife. The Hebrews
looked forward to a resurrection of the body; only so could
consciousness be restored; and it would take place on a
day of judgement after a period of absolute non-existence.
But Christians tended (as many still do) to accept also
the survival of the soul as Plato conceived it, so that
consciousness continues without interruption beyond the
moment of death. But granted the promise of a fully surviving
consciousness, it is hard to see the point of a subsequent
resurrection of the body, which Christians were bound to
accept in accordance with their Creeds.'
Plato's idea of the immortality of the soul could thus be
imported into Christian thought, it is far from surprising
that his views on the Deity should also find a foothold in
the early church.
In concluding this section it might be well to stress (without
any slur upon the exceedingly able and perceptive minds of
those great thinkers) the fact that philosophy is only the
product of human intellect. Despite the claims that were later
made for philosophy, it is not divine revelation such as is
contained in Scripture. As Gibbon again says:
meditated on the Divine Nature, as a very curious and important
speculation; and in the profound enquiry, they displayed
the strength and weakness of the human understanding'.
35-90 A.D. THE APOSTOLIC CHURCH
whole thrust of this book is an attempt to demonstrate that
the original Christians' beliefs and teaching about God and
Christ were not Trinitarian. It is therefore unnecessary to
restate here the arguments of other chapters. However, at
this juncture it is useful to note that historians and commentators
all down the centuries have acknowledged that the Trinity
formed no part of the original Christian message, and that
all New Testament evidence is that the first Christians regarded
God as a unity and Jesus as subordinate to Him. The following
are a sample of comments of such writers (almost all of whom
were or are Trinitarians), and any who claim to find the Trinity
implicitly, even if not explicitly, taught in Scripture are
invited to ponder the evidence.
(1593): 'Our belief in the Trinity, the co-eternity of
the Son of God with his Father, the proceeding of the Spirit
from the Father and the Son, these with such other principal
points are in Scripture nowhere to be found by express literal
mention; only deduced they are out of Scripture by collection.'
Milton (1608-1674): 'For my part I adhere to the Holy
Scriptures alone, I follow no other heresy or sect. If, therefore,
the Father be the God of Christ, and the same be our God,
and if there be none other God but one, there can be no God
beside the Father.' (14)
arguments against the Trinity are ultimately logical and commonsensical:
Why create mystifications which are not to be found in the
Bible? John Locke and Isaac Newton, with Milton the three
greatest names of the period (c.1650), could not find Trinitarianism
in the Bible'. (15)
Neander (1850): 'The Doctrine of the Trinity does not,
it appears to me, belong strictly to the fundamentals of the
Christian faith; as it appears from the fact that it is explicitly
set forth in no one particular passage of the New Testament;
for the only one in which this is done, the passage relating
to the three that bear record (1 John 5) is undoubtedly spurious,
and in its ungenuine shape testifies to the fact, how foreign
such a collection is from the style of the New Testament writings.
We find in the New Testament no other fundamental article
besides that of which the apostle Paul says that other foundation
can no man lay than that is laid, the preaching of Jesus Christ
as the Messiah; and the foundation of His religion is designated
by Christ himself as the faith in the only true God and in
Jesus Christ whom He hath sent'. (16)
Joseph Priestly (1871): 'Why was not the doctrine of the
Trinity taught as explicitly, and in as definite
a manner, in the New Testament at least, as the doctrine of
the divine Unity is taught in both the Old and New
Testaments, if it be a truth? And why is the doctrine of the
Unity always delivered in so unguarded a manner and
without any exception made in favour of the Trinity, to prevent
any mistake with respect to it?.' (17)
is well known, and mentioned by Eusebius,
(18) that the Unitarians in the primitive church
always pretended to be the oldest Christians, that the Apostles
themselves had taught their doctrine, and that it generally
prevailed till the time of Zephyrinius, bishop of Rome'.
retained the same faith, believing in the strict unity of
God, and the proper humanity of Christ, all the time of the
Apostles and of those who conversed with them, but began to
depart from that doctrine presently afterwards; and the defection
advanced so fast, that in about one century more, the original
doctrine was generally reprobated and deemed heretical.'
Smallridge: 'It must be owned, that the doctrine of the
Trinity as it is proposed in our Articles, our Liturgy, our
Creeds, is not in so many words taught us in the Holy Scriptures.
What we profess in our prayers we nowhere read in Scripture,
that the one God, the one Lord, is not only one person, but
three persons in one substance. There is no such text as this,'That
the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped'.
No one of the inspired writers hath expressly affirmed, that
in the Trinity none is afore or after other, none is greater
or less than another.' (21)
(the brother-in-law of the famous nineteenth century Cardinal
Newman) 'I ask with all humbleness where the idea of Threeness
is expressed in the New Testament with a doctrinal sense and
force? Where is the Triune God held up to be worshipped, loved
and obeyed? Where is He preached and proclaimed in that threefold
Character? We read 'God is one' as too, 'I and the Father
are one'; but nowhere do we read that Three are one, unless
it be in a text long since known to be interpolated ... To
me the whole matter is most painful and perplexing, and I
should not even speak as I now do did I not feel on the threshold
of the grave, soon to appear before the Throne of all truth
.... Certainly not in Scripture do we find the expression
'God the Son', or 'God the Holy Ghost'. Whenever I pronounce
the name of God, simply and first, I mean God the Father,
and I cannot help meaning that, if I mean anything.'
(1900): 'The Old Testament is strictly monotheistic. God
is a single personal being. The idea that a trinity is to
be found there, or even in any way shadowed forth, is
an assumption that has long held sway in theology, but is
utterly without foundation.' (23)
the Synoptic gospels ... there is no hint anywhere of a pre-incarnate
life, ... or of a divine incarnation. He calls God his Father,
but he also teaches that God is Father of All, and gives his
disciples the Pater Noster. ... There is no evidence
that the idea of a peculiar metaphysical union with God ever
entered his mind. At least it did not appear in his synoptic
this critical explanation, we take the New Testament writings
as we find them, and ask what evidence they give us on the
question of the evolution of the doctrine of the Trinity.
The earliest stratum of the evolution is contained in the
Book of Acts, and in the Synoptic gospels. The doctrine of
Christ in the first stratum is distinctly that of Messiahship.
Jesus is a man of God, sent of God to declare his gospel ....
There is no assertion of Christ's divinity, or of his pre-existence
or incarnation.' (25)
Paul ever confounded Christ with God himself, or regarded
him in any way as the supreme Divinity, is a position invalidated
not only by direct statements, but also by the whole drift
of his epistles.' (26)
W. Matthews (1940): 'It must be admitted by everyone who
has the rudiments of an historical sense that the doctrine
of the Trinity, as a doctrine, formed no part of the original
message. St. Paul knew it not, and would have been unable
to understand the meaning of the terms used in the theological
formula on which the Church ultimately agreed'.
of Religion (1987): 'Exegetes and theologians today are
in agreement that the Hebrew Bible does not contain a doctrine
of the Trinity, even though it was customary in past dogmatic
tracts on the Trinity to cite texts like Gen. 1.26 "Let us
make humanity in our image, after our likeness". Although
the Hebrew Bible depicts God as the father of Israel and employs
personifications of God such as Word, Spirit, Wisdom, and
Presence, it would go beyond the intention and spirit of the
Old Testament to correlate these notions with later Trinitarian
doctrine. ... Further exegetes and theologians agree that
the New Testament also does not contain an explicit doctrine
of the trinity ... In the New Testament there is no reflective
consciousness of the metaphysical nature of God ("immanent
trinity") nor does the New Testament contain the technical
language of later doctrine.' (28)
(1989): 'All this raises the question whether the pre-existence-incarnation
interpretation of these key passages in Paul and Hebrews is
properly grounded in the exegesis of these passages. Has that
interpretation properly understood the character and thrust
of earliest Christianity's Adam christology? It is quite true
that once the context of the original Adam theology faded
from the immediate perspective the language which derived
from that theology lent itself to a pre-existence-incarnation
interpretation, particularly in the case of Phil. 2.6-11.
... but from what we have seen of the Adam christology in
Paul and elsewhere in the early decades of Christianity, that
interpretation goes beyond the meaning and intention of
the original Philippian hymn and its use by Paul' .
of Paul's reference in Col. 1.15-20, 'It is at least questionable
whether ... he intended to assert the pre-existence of Christ,
or to affirm that Jesus was a divine being personally active
in creation.' (30)
was not seeking to win men to belief in a pre-existent being'.
We repeat that with the exception of Dr. Priestly
all the above writers are Trinitarians or members of the established
church, and it is salutary to learn that even they acknowledge
that the Scriptural basis for the doctrine of the Trinity
is virtually non-existent.
FROM APOSTOLIC TEACHING PREDICTED (32)
One of the features of the early Christian movement was the
fact that almost from its inception some of its basic tenets
were challenged, and the Apostles had continually to be on
their guard lest the variant ideas should take root. In Corinth
the bodily resurrection was denied; in Colosse the unique
position of Jesus in God's purpose was challenged, and throughout
the Christian world the Judaisers were attempting to retain
the new faith within the confines of the Law of Moses. The
Apostles foresaw that such processes would intensify after
their death and so gave many warnings to the flock to beware
of departing from the truths they had been taught.
Paul gave this warning to the Ephesians on his final visit
'Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock ... I know
that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among
you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves
will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the
disciples after them.' (Acts 20:28-30).
A few years later, in his letter to Timothy, his warnings
became more emphatic:
the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will
depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits
and doctrines of demons, through the pretensions of liars
whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and enjoin
abstinence from foods which God created to be received with
thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth' (1
the same time Peter gave similar warnings:
false prophets also arose among the people, just as there
will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring
in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought
them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many
will follow their licentiousness, and because of them the
way of truth will be reviled. And in their greed they will
exploit you with false words' (2 Peter 2:1-3).
As the guiding hand of the Apostles was gradually withdrawn,
these predictions came to pass. In the closing years of the
first century the very aged John had to write against those
who were promulgating false views about the person of Christ
(1 John 4:1-3; 2 John 7-8). In the final book of Scripture,
in a message from Jesus himself, we learn of the false doctrines
and evil practices that were already in his church (Revelation
Of course, the question has to be decided as to whether the
doctrines that survived into the succeeding ages were the
true original ones or the 'destructive heresies' that had
been 'secretly brought in'. Daille's comment is very relevant
I cannot believe that any faithful Christian will deny but
that Christianity was at its zenith and perfection at the
time of the blessed Apostles. ... It will follow then, that
those times which were nearest to the Apostles were necessarily
the purest, and less subject to suspicion of corruption,
either in doctrine or in manners of Christian discipline:
it being reasonable to believe that if any corruptions have
crept into the Church, they came in little by little, and
by degrees, as it happens in all other things ... but ..
after the death of the Apostles the conspiracy of error
began to discover itself with open face'.
In later years Tertullian had a rule by which he detected
heresy 'What was true was first, what was spurious afterwards'
(34) and we will use a similar approach.
The problem is that variations to the original teaching poured
in thick and fast in the second and third centuries so that
what later times repudiated as heresies were in fact the original
views. As one writer says: 'Many scholars believe that in
some regions views later condemned as heresy predominated
at first'. (35)
As most of the early 'heresies' concerned the position of
Christ, it is reasonable to conclude that they were in fact
the original Christian teaching. When the Church later discarded
these early beliefs did it discard an important element of
the Apostolic faith? We will submit evidence that it did.
EARLY 'RULES OF FAITH'
then, were the earliest beliefs about the relationship of
God to Jesus? From almost the beginning it was felt necessary
to define the basic items of faith, particularly in a form
that could be used as a confession by baptismal candidates.
From these developed more extensive rules of faith which in
turn were enlarged into the creeds.
The earliest declaration of belief was probably a simple 'Jesus
is Lord' (1 Corinthians 12.3) or 'Jesus is the Christ' (1
John 5:1). A slightly later confession runs: 'Jesus Christ,
the Son of God, is the Saviour'. The initial letters of this
phrase in Greek produce the Greek word ichthys, i.e."fish",
and therefore probably from a very early date a fish was chosen
as the symbol of Christian faith. Soon the need was felt for
a more comprehensive statement, or creed (from credo,
I believe), such as an early one found in Egypt:
believe in God, the Father, the Almighty;
in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord,
in the Holy Ghost, the holy church, the resurrection
the flesh.' (36)
By combining several references the creed of Justin (c.A.D.
150) has been deduced:
believe in the Father of all things and the Lord God.
in our Lord Jesus Christ, the first-born son of God,
according to the Father's will born through a virgin
and become man and crucified under Pontius Pilate
and dead and risen from the dead and ascended into
heaven, and will come again in glory as judge of all
in the Holy Spirit of prophecy.
similar creeds have been preserved from a similar date.
In the church at Rome in the fourth century was an already
ancient Latin creed known as the Old Roman Creed, and which
subsequently became known as the Apostles Creed. Its Latin
form has been shown to be a translation from the Greek, and
as this language ceased to be the language of the Roman Church
in the middle of the third century, it must be dated before
about A.D.250, and is almost certainly much older than that
date. Although it is now believed that the title 'Apostles
Creed' is a misnomer in the sense that there is little evidence
that it was first written by the immediate disciples of Jesus,
it is admitted by all that the creed is of great antiquity,
and probably accurately reflected their teaching. It was added
to over the centuries, but its earliest form is as follows:
believe in God the Father Almighty;
in Jesus Christ his only begotten Son, our Lord,
Who was born of the Holy Ghost, and the virgin Mary,
Who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and buried:
on the third day he rose from the dead,
ascended into heaven,
sat down at the right hand of the Father;
from whence he will come to judge the living and the
in the Holy Ghost, the holy church, the forgiveness
of sins, the resurrection of the flesh.
Up to the beginning of the fourth century these creeds and
rules of faith were essentially local statements by individual
communities, and thus varied in detail from place to place.
There was considerable flexibility of belief and opinion.
It was not until later that creeds, such as the Nicene Creed,
were drawn up by the whole church and used as a test of orthodoxy,
with excommunication as a penalty for non-compliance.
It will be readily seen that none of these early statements
of faith describe the relationship between God and Jesus in
anything approaching Trinitarian terms, and are therefore
strongly suggestive on Tertullian's rule that 'what was true
was first' that subsequent developments were a modification
of the immediate post-Apostolic faith.
90-120. THE POST-APOSTOLIC PERIOD
the immediate post-apostolic years conventionally called the
times of the Apostolic Fathers little written evidence has
come down to us that enables us to establish the then current
beliefs. Just a few passing references and allusions are often
all that we have to guide us. However, all that is extant
is in line with the view that Trinitarian ideas were not yet
being expressed; but at the same time the nature of Christ
and his relationship to his Father was already engaging the
minds of some, with widely differing views emerging.
EBIONITES AND NAZARENES
the later standpoint of the official church historians of
the fourth century (by which time the Church was
virtually trinitarian) these three sects represented heretical
movements as early as the latter years of the first century,
each not believing that Jesus Christ was God. The Docetists
believed that Jesus during his life on earth had not a real
human body, but only an apparent one.
This can be regarded as a genuine heresy, and appears to have
been combated by the aged apostle John when he warned his
readers that 'many deceivers have gone out into the world,
men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in
the flesh; such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist'
(2 John 7).
But can one place the Ebionites and the Nazarenes in the same
category? The two names possibly describe but one group of
early Christians in southern Syria. Mosheim
(39), however, regards them as two separate groups,
the Hebrew 'Nazarenes' being interchangeable with the Greek
term 'Christians'. When Jerusalem was attacked by Titus in
A.D. 66-70 the Christians in Judea, heedful of the warning
of Jesus in his Mount Olivet Prophecy (Luke 21:21) fled the
region before the Roman armies closed in. They moved north
to Pella where they established a church that lasted for the
next few hundred years. This group of Christians called themselves
Nazarenes, but those outside, noting with disparagement their
poverty, called them Ebionites ('poor men'). Does this very
early group of Christians, cut off from the mainstream of
developing Christianity, furnish us with clues to original
One thing noted about the Nazarenes and Ebionites
(40) by the early writers was that
they 'saw Jesus as an ordinary man indwelt by God's power
at his baptism' (41)
The word 'ordinary' here needs some qualification. Certainly
some of the Ebionites went so far as to say that Jesus was
the actual son of Joseph, but another section within them
held Jesus to be the Son of God by his conception through
the Holy Spirit, but not pre-existent. 'They obstinately rejected
the preceding existence and divine perfections of the Logos
or the son of God'. (42)
the church historian of the 4th century, although his knowledge
of and interest in Syrian Christianity was minimal and biased,
(43) describes them in these terms:
they were appropriately named by the first Christians, in
view of the poor and mean opinions they held about Christ.
They regarded him as plain and ordinary, a man esteemed
as righteous through growth of character and nothing more,
the child of a normal union between a man and Mary. A second
group went by the same name, but escaped the outrageous
absurdity of the first. They did not deny that the Lord
was born of a virgin and the Holy spirit, but nevertheless
shared their refusal to acknowledge His pre-existence as
God the Word and Wisdom' (44)
suggests that this second group within the Ebionites were
in fact the Nazarenes and says they closely represented apostolic
survival down to a later age, of a Judaeo Christianity more
closely approximating to that of the apostles, but through
its isolation and seclusion taking on the character of a
backward sect, distinguished from the more abruptly heretical
character of the Ebionites, is attested by the fact that
Epiphanius in his age (45)
distinguishes, under two names which were originally general
names for Christians, between Nazarenes and Ebionites'.
But how did the mainstream Christians of the time regard the
Ebionites and Nazarenes? Did they condemn them for their failure
to preach that Christ was pre-existent? There is no record
of this, rather the contrary. Hegesippus, one of the earliest
Christian writers 'who belonged after the first generation
after the apostles' (47),
and who 'in five short books gave an authentic account of
the apostolic preaching', (48)
makes no mention of this supposed heresy of the Nazarenes
and Ebionites. This suggests that rejection of the pre-existence
of Christ was then standard teaching
(49) throughout the Christian world. About the same
time other prominent Christian writers also noted the existence
of the Ebionites and Nazarenes without denouncing their opinions
'It is remarkable, however, that those who held the simple
doctrine of the humanity of Christ, without asserting that
Joseph was his natural father, were not reckoned heretics
by Irenaeus ... and even those who held that opinion
are mentioned with respect by Justin Martyr, who wrote some
years before'. (50)
Of the few pastoral letters written which can be accepted
as genuine in this immediate post-apostolic period is the
First Epistle of Clement. Writing from Rome to a troubled
Corinth community, he concludes with this benediction:
may the all-seeing God and Master of spirits and Lord of
all flesh, who chose the Lord Jesus Christ, and us through
him for his own people, give to every soul that is called
by his excellent and holy name, faith, fear, peace, patience,
and long suffering, self-control, purity, and sober-mindedness,
so that they may be well-pleasing to his name through our
high priest and defender Jesus Christ, through whom unto
him be glory and majesty, might and honour, both now and
forever and ever. Amen.' (51)
Clearly to Clement God was supreme, above all. His is the
'excellent' name. It was He who 'chose' Jesus, and it is only
He who receives praise 'through' Jesus. As Lamson says of
this letter of Clement: 'What traces, then, does it contain
of the modern doctrine of the Trinity? It contains not the
faintest trace of the supreme divinity of the Son or of the
So as the first century closes there is no evidence
in Christian writing of belief in the personal pre-existence
of Jesus, or that he was held to be equal to God or worshipped
2 Timothy 4:4
Quoted by Stannus, p24. (For detailed bibliography see
Appendix 3 at end of chapter).
Decline and Fall, ch.21
Encyclopaedia Britannica: Art. 'Neoplatonism'
Gibbon, Decline and Fall Chap.13.
V.A.S. Little: The Christology of the Apologists
pp.20-21. Pub. Duckworth (1934). Italics ours.
History of Christianity Vol. II p.355
e.g. Chadwick: The Early Church, p34.
Stead, C: Art. 'Greek Influence on Christian Thought',
in Early Christianity, Ed. Hazlett.
Gibbon, Decline and Fall chap.2
Hooker, Richard, Ecclesiastical Polity, Bk.
i, para 14.
Quoted by Stannus, p29.
Christopher Mill, Milton and the English Revolution
Neander, History of Christian Religion, vol.
Bk. 5 para 28
Sixty Sermons, No. xxxiii, p348.
Reminiscences of Oriel College and the Oxford Movement.
A critical History of the Evolution of Trinitarianism,
p4 (italics ours).
ibid, p22. (italics ours)
Matthews, W.R. (Dean of St Paul's), God in Christian
Thought and Experience.
Dunn, J.D.G. Christology in the Making, p 128
See also pp. 135ff
Daille, The Right Use of the Fathers, p.2
Quoted in Blunt's Early Fathers, p155
History of Christianity, Lion, p.107
Encyclopaedia Britannica, Art. 'Creeds'.
Encyclopaedia Britannica, Art. 'Creeds'.
Encyclopaedia Britannica, Art. 'Docetae'
Vol. 1, ch.5
They also retained the original Christian belief in the
future reign of Christ on earth, which was enough to ensure
the censure of 3rd and 4th century Christianity, which by
then had largely abandoned this element of Apostolic teaching.
History of Christianity, Lion, p110
Gibbon, Decline and Fall, ch. xx
Louth, A, Eusebius, p.xxiv-xxv.
History of the Christian Church, p.100
Lamson op. cit. p.4.