§ 2. The Tradition of the Dogma of the Holy Trinity

{149} It was the doctrine of Arianism that our Lord was a pure creature, made out of nothing, liable to fall, the Son of God by adoption not by nature, and called God in Scripture, not as being really such, but only in name. At the same time he would not have denied that the Son and the Holy Ghost were creatures transcendently near to God, and immeasurably distant from the rest of creation.

Now by contrast, how does the teaching of the Fathers who preceded Arius, stand relatively to such a representation of the Christian Creed? Is it such, or how far is it such, as to bear Arius out in so representing it? This is the first point to inquire about.

First of all, the teaching of the Fathers was necessarily directed by the form of Baptism, as given by our Lord Himself to His disciples after His resurrection. To become one of His disciples was, according to His own words, to be baptized "into the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost;" that is, into the profession, into the service, of a Triad. Such was our Lord's injunction: and ever since, before Arianism and after, down to this day, the initial lesson in religion taught to every Christian, on his being made a Christian, is that he thereby belongs to a certain Three, whatever more, or whether anything more, is revealed to us in Christianity about that Three. {150}

The doctrine then of a Supreme Triad is the elementary truth of Christianity; and accordingly, as might have been expected, its recognition is a sort of key-note, on which centre the thoughts and language of all theologians, from which they start, with which they end.

I propose to show in this Section how the Ante-Nicene Fathers understood this sacred truth, in contrast to the understanding of Arius, availing myself for that purpose of the careful and accurate collection of Testimonies published by. Dr. Burton [Note 1].

1. First, St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, when at the stake, offered up a prayer to God, which ended thus: "I glorify Thee, through the Eternal High Priest, Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son ([paidos]), through whom be glory to Thee, with Him in the Holy Ghost, both now and for ever."

Here the Three are mentioned, as in the baptismal form; as many as Three, and no more than Three, with the expression of a still closer association of the Three, one with another, than is signified in that form, viz. as contained in the words, "through," "with," and "in."

2. And this is only one out of several forms of doxology, of the same, or of an earlier date, all connected with the same Triad, and with that Triad only, one of which is attributed to St. Ignatius of Antioch, one to St. Clement of Rome. Also an evening hymn, apparently of the same date, concludes with a doxology to "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit of God," countenancing what I said above, that the {151} wording of the form of Baptism implied a profession of service to the Sacred Triad in those who were submitted to the rite.

3. And so also the forms of Creed, still extant, of the early centuries. They are all expansions of the baptismal formula, thereby marking that formula to imply, not only worship and service, but faith also, directed towards the Heavenly Three.

4. In like manner St. Justin:—"We worship the Framer of this Universe, and Jesus Christ, our Teacher in these things, having learned that He is the Son of the true God, having Him in the second place, and the Prophetic Spirit in the third rank."

5. Athenagoras. "Who would not be astonished to hear us called atheists, speaking as we do of the Father as God, and the Son as God, and the Holy Ghost; showing both their power ([dunamin]) in unity, and their distinction in order?" In some sense then, he, as believing in one God, must have considered Them One.

Again, expressly:—"The Father and the Son are One: the Son is in the Father, and the Father in the Son, by the unity and power of the Spirit."

Again:—"We speak of God, and of the Son, His Word, and of the Holy Ghost, which are united in power,—the Father, the Son, and the Spirit; for the Son is the Mind, Word, Wisdom of the Father, and the Spirit an off-streaming, as light from fire."

Once more, Athenagoras speaks of "the knowledge of God, and of the Word that is from Him, that is, what the unity is of the Son ([paidos]) with the Father, what the {152} fellowship of the Father with the Son, what the Spirit is, what the uniting of so many," viz. Three, "and what division in their uniting,—the Spirit, the Son ([paidos]), the Father."

In this last passage, Athenagoras justifies our saying that the baptismal form, simple as is its wording, did suggest to the early Christians difficulties and questions, as yet open, and necessitated a theory of doctrine; for it was impossible to go on using words without an insight into their meaning, such as those words in themselves did not supply. Arians would feel this as strongly as Catholics. Next, Athenagoras, in what he says about their meaning, moves in the Catholic direction. He speaks of a distinction or division in unity, as a point to be explained; but, if by unity was meant merely a moral unity, or unity of thought, sentiment, or action, what need was there of any explanation? as if the distinction existing between separate beings could possibly be compromised by such a unity! And, in like manner, a unity, other than moral and seemingly metaphysical, is implied in a former passage, where he speaks of the Son as the Father's "Mind, Word, and Wisdom."

6. Next, St. Theophilus of Antioch speaks expressly of a "Triad, God, His Word and His Wisdom;" the term "Triad" is also used by Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Hippolytus and Methodius; as "Trinitas" is used by Tertullian and Novatian.

7. St. Irenæus speaks of "the Spirit operating, the Son ministering, and the Father approving," in the salvation of man; of "the Father approving and commanding, {153} the Son executing and framing, the Spirit supplying nourishment and increase," in man's original formation. He says that "the Father is above all things and the head of Christ; the Word is through all, and the head of the Church; the Spirit is in us all, and is the living water."

8. Clement of Alexandria says, "One is the Father of the Universe, one is the Word of the Universe, and one is the Holy Ghost and the same everywhere." He speaks of "the power of God the Father, the blood of God the Son ([paidos]), and the dew of the Holy Ghost."

9. Tertullian says that we should pray not less than three times a day, being "debtors of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost;" "that all Three are one by unity of substance, and the Unity is developed into a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost;" that They are Three, "not in condition, but in degree, not in substance, but in form, not in power, but in aspect; and are of one substance, condition, and power;" that "the Spirit is not from other source (aliunde) than from the Father through the Son;" that "the Spirit is the third from God and the Son, as the fruit from the shrub is third from the root, and the rill from the stream is third from the spring;" that "the words [of Scripture] which are spoken to the Father concerning the Son, or to the Son concerning the Father, or to the Spirit, constitute each Person in His own characteristic [proprietate];" that "we never suffer 'Two Gods' or 'Two Lords' to pass our lips, though the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God, and Each is God;" that "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are undivided {154} from Each Other;" that "the union of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Paraclete, makes Three co-inherents (co-hærentes) the one from the other."

Certainly, if the questions suggested by Athenagoras need an answer, Tertullian has supplied one in bountiful measure. He almost developes the baptismal formula into the Athanasian Creed.

10. St. Hippolytus says, that "even though a man would not, he must necessarily confess God the Father Almighty, and Christ Jesus, God, the Son of God, who became man, to whom the Father has subjected all things except Himself and the Holy Ghost, and that these are thus Three;" that "God's power [or Essence, [dunamis]] is one, and as regards that power, God is One, but, as regards the [revealed] Economy the manifestation is triple;" that "we contemplate the Incarnate Word, conceive of the Father through Him, believe in the Son, worship the Holy Ghost."

Again, he says, "I do not say two Gods, but One, and Two Persons, and a Third, the Economy, the grace of the Holy Ghost. The Father is one; there are two Persons, for there is also the Son, and the third is the Holy Ghost." And "We cannot hold one God, unless we really believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost." And "Through the Trinity the Father is glorified; for the Father willed, the Son made, the Holy Ghost manifested." And "The self-existing ([ho on]) Father is above all, the Son through all, and the Holy Ghost in all." And again, "The Jews glorified the Father, but not thankfully, for they did not acknowledge the Son; the disciples knew the Son, but not {155} in the Holy Ghost, and therefore denied Him." Lastly, "To the Son be glory and power with the Father and Holy Ghost, in the Holy Church, both now and for evermore."

11. Origen speaks thus, in the Latin translation, as regards the Son's co-eternity;—what he says will be confirmed, infr. p. 165, by a passage preserved to us by Athanasius. "When I speak of the Omnipotence of God, of His invisibility and eternity, my words are lofty; when I speak of the co-eternity of His Only-begotten Son and His other mysteries, my words are lofty; when I discuss the mightiness of the Holy Ghost, my words are lofty:—as to These only is it allowed to us to use lofty words. After these Three, henceforth speak nothing loftily, for all things are mean and low, compared with the loftiness of this Trinity. Let not then your lofty words be many, except concerning Father, Son, and Holy Ghost."

12. St. Cyprian says, "It is written of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, 'And these Three are One.'"

13. St. Gregory Thaumaturgus in his Creed [Note 2]:—"There is One God, Father of the Living Word, … of an Only-begotten Son: … Our Lord, Sole from Sole, God from God ... and one Holy Ghost, having His being from God, and manifested through the Son to men, {156} the Image of the Son ... in whom is manifested God the Father, who is over all and in all, and God the Son who is through all, a perfect Triad, not separated, nor dissociated, in glory, eternity, and reign."

14. St. Dionysius of Alexandria:—"Neither is the Father estranged from the Son, nor is the Son set apart from the Father; and in Their Hands is the Spirit, who neither of Him who sends nor of Him who conveys can be deprived. How then, while I make use of these Names, can I conceive that They are divided at all or separated from Each Other?" Again: "We expand the Monad into the indivisible Triad, and again we concentrate the completed Triad into the Monad."

15. And Pope St. Dionysius: "We must neither divide the Wonderful and Divine Monad into three divinities, nor destroy the dignity and exceeding greatness of the Lord by thinking Him a creature: but we must have faith in God the Father Almighty, and in Christ Jesus His Son, and in the Holy Ghost." And again he speaks in reprobation of those who "in some sort preach three Gods, dividing the Holy Monad into three hypostases, foreign from each other, and altogether separate; for of necessity with the God of the Universe the Divine Word is one, and in God must the Holy Ghost reside and dwell."

16. And so the Creed ascribed by the Semi-Arians to Lucian their master. Speaking of the baptismal words, he says:—"The Name of the Father is truly Father, and of the Son truly Son, and of the Holy Ghost truly Holy Ghost; the Names not being given without meaning or {157} effect, but denoting accurately the proper hypostasis, rank, and glory of Each that is named, so that They are Three in hypostasis, but in agreement one."

17. Lastly Eusebius:—"The number Trine was the first to be a type of righteousness by introducing equality: as having a beginning, a middle, and an ending, equal to each other. And these three are an emblem of the hidden, all-holy, sovereign Triad, which, belonging to that Nature which is unoriginate and ingenerate, of all generated substances whatsoever contains the seeds, reasons, and causes."—De Laud. Const. p. 510.

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1. Burton's "Theological Works," vol. ii. 1837.
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2. For some reason Burton does not quote this testimony, which St. Gregory Nyssen says was preserved in his day in Gregory Thaumaturgus's church, and in his handwriting. Vid. Lumper, t. xiii. p. 287.
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