§ 3. The Explicit Tradition of the Dogma all but complete

{158} 1. Such being the chain of testimonies in the early centuries concerning the Divine Triad, so far is clear at once, and has to be noted first of all, that it is impossible to view historical Christianity apart from the doctrine of a Trinity. Putting aside the question of the truth or the admissibility of the Arian tenet,—before pronouncing upon Arianism,—so far is undeniable, (as even those have admitted who were the enemies of dogmatic formulas,) that some doctrine or other of a Trinity lies at the very root of the Christian conception of the Supreme Being, and of His worship and service; that, whereas the Object of our faith and devotion is One, still His ineffable Oneness is inseparably associated with the presence of a Triad; that we cannot contemplate the Divine Nature in the light of revelation, without contemplating in connexion with it, Three Powers, Principles, Agents, Manifestations,—or, according to the Catholic dogma, Persons. I have been referring to the principal historical witnesses of the second and third centuries, witnesses summoned from every part of Christendom,—from Rome, Lyons, Carthage, Alexandria, Samaria, Antioch, Smyrna. Faithful to the baptismal form, which indeed by itself is conclusive of the point I am insisting on, they all speak of a Trinity, and, under the same three names used in that form, as their broad view, from first to last, of the special {159} theistic teaching, which the gospel substituted for the polytheism of the Empire. Three and Three only: nor is there any string of testimonies producible from those early centuries in a contrary sense, though there were individuals, such as Theodotus, Noetus, Sabellius and Paulus, who, differing from each other, differed from the main tradition. The Three Persons are absolutely separated off, as unapproachable, incommunicable, in reference to the created universe, distinct from it in the ideas which They suggest, as the Object of exclusive veneration, a veneration which is equivalent to divine worship. Whether the celebrated passage in St. John's Epistle be genuine or not, it is felicitously descriptive of the Ante-Nicene tradition, when it designates them as the "Three that bear witness in heaven." There is but one passage of an early Father, as far as I know, which is an exception to this rule: I refer to the well-known words of St. Justin, which include under the objects of religious honour, not only the Heavenly Three, but also the good Angels.

2. So much in the first place: next, there is in the foregoing testimonies much more than a recognition of some or other kind of Triad to be associated by us with the idea of the Divine Being. Some of the passages quoted are fuller in their statements than others; but those that say less do not contradict those that say more; their difference from those which are more explicit is only one of defect; they are all consistent with each other, except so far as the Catholic dogma itself of Three in One as now held, may seem self-contradictory, as relating to {160} truths utterly beyond our comprehension. These passages coalesce and form one whole, and a whole in agreement with the subsequent teaching on the subject of the fourth and fifth centuries; and their doctrine, thus taken as a whole, will be found to contain these four main points:—(1) Each of the Three Divine Persons is distinct from each; (2) Each is God; (3) One proceeds from Another in succession; (4) Each is in the Other Two. In other words, this primitive ecclesiastical tradition concerning the Divine Being includes the doctrines of the Trinity, of the Unity, of the Monarchia or Principatus, and of the Circumincessio or Co-inherence. To take these four points separately:—

(1) The Trinitas, or Divine Triad; viz. that there is a transcendent Three, fulfilling or realizing the idea of God. Thus, in the foregoing passages, Theophilus, Origen, and many others use this word "Triad;" Athenagoras speaks of the "division in Their union, and Their distinction in order;" Clement says:—"There is one Father, one Word, one Holy Ghost." Tertullian and Hippolytus speak of "Three Persons;" Gregory of a "Perfect Triad, not separated, nor dissociated, in glory, eternity, and reign;" Dionysius, of our "expanding the Monad into the indivisible Triad."

(2) The Unitas; viz., that Each is God, and the One God. Athenagoras says:—"The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost." Clement speaks of "God the Father, God the Son." Tertullian says, "The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost God; Each is God." Gregory that the Son is All-God ([holos]) from {161} All-God;" Dionysius, "We concentrate the completed Triad into the Monad."

(3) The Monarchia; that is, that of the Three the Father is emphatically, (and with a singular distinction from the Other Two, as the [pege theotetos],) spoken of as God. Thus St. Justin and St. Clement speak of Him as the God of the Universe; thus Athenagoras speaks of "God, His Son and Word, and His Spirit;" Irenęus of "God and His Hands;" Theophilus of "God, His Word, and His Wisdom;" and Pope Dionysius of God the Father Almighty, and Christ Jesus His Son, and of the Holy Ghost; as does the Primitive Creed. But, as such enunciations might seem to separate the First from the Second and Third Persons of the Holy Trinity, they are explained by

(4) The Circumincessio; or intimate co-inherence of Each Person in the Other Two. Thus Athenagoras:—"The Son is in the Father, and the Father in the Son, by the unity and power of the Spirit;" Tertullian, "Not that we can number Two Gods or Two Lords, although the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, Each is God." And he speaks of their being "Three Co-inherents." The Alexandrian Dionysius says:—"The father is not divided from the Son, nor the Son apart from the Father, and in Their Hands is the Spirit." Pope Dionysius:—"We must not 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." {162}

Looking then at the literature of Christianity from the time of St. John to the time of St. Athanasius, as a whole,—as a whole, because proceeding from a whole, that is, from that one great all-encompassing religious association called the Catholic Church, which was found wherever Christianity was found, and represents Christianity historically,—one, however divided by time and place, by reason of the mutual recognition and active intercommunion of its portions, and of their common claims to an apostolical tradition of doctrine, to an absolute agreement together in faith and morals, and to a divine authority to teach and to denounce dissentients,—I say, looking at the Christian literature as a whole, in which what one writer says may be fairly interpreted, explained, and supplemented by what others say, we may reasonably pronounce, that there was during the second and third centuries a profession and teaching concerning the Holy Trinity, not vague and cloudy, but of a certain determinate character:—moreover, that this teaching was to the effect that God was to be worshipped in Three distinct Persons (that is, that there was a divine Triad, of whom severally the personal pronoun could be used), Each of whom was the One Indivisible God, Each dwelt in Each, Each was really distinct from Each, Each was united to Each by definite correlations;—moreover, that such a teaching was contradictory and destructive of the Arian hypothesis, which considered the Son of God, and ą fortiori the Holy Ghost, to be simply and absolutely creatures of God, who once did not exist, however exalted it might assert them to be in nature and by grace. {163}

So much I take for granted on starting; and then the question follows, which is my proper subject. If the case is as I have stated it, how came it about, that in the face of a tradition of doctrine so strong and so clear, Arianism had such sudden, rapid, and wide-spread successes?

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