Dr. Sergey Zagraevsky
NEW CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY
original was published in Russian: ALEV-V Publishing House,
We shall start the “tuning” of the Christian theology from a question, to which any Church – the Orthodox, the Catholic, the Protestant – is ready to give the most comprehensive answer at any moment. And the question is the following:
The “Trinity” (three divine persons – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit) is the base of Churches’ dogmatics. They are distinct from each other but equal in their eternity and power, and each of them has its own “duties”. However, the latter are not divided definitely, and all the hypostases take part in every act, to a variable extent though.
But does this approach coordinate with strict Monotheism, without which, as we have already seen, any religion inevitably becomes a morally degraded system? And the First Commandment of the Decalogue sounds unambiguously – God is single (Ex. 20:1).
Churches say confidently that it is coordinated. Let us read the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed – that is the mostly condensed form of the dogmatics of the major Churches, and this Creed is accepted by both the Catholic and the Orthodox Church (excluding the addition about “filioque” – the proceeding of the Holy Spirit not only from the Father, but also from the Son).
“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father. Through him all the things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: he was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated on the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father (and the Son – the addition of the Catholic Church). With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”
The words about “God the Son”, – “Eternally begotten of the Father... Begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father”, – are the key formula, making an appearance of the solution of the problem of Polytheism. So, “God the Son” was begotten (in the Greek original it sounds unambiguously – was born), and that is natural since he is the Son. But since he is God, he is not made. And since he is one in being with the Father, together they are single God.
Really, if we examine all three these statements (“begotten”, “not made” and “one in being”) separately, then the problem of Polytheism seems to be solved. But it only seems so, because as soon as we begin to examine these statements together, a number of contradictions appear.
If “God the Son” was born, then he is made. How is it possible to give birth without making?
It is possible to apply the Nicene-Constantinopolitan formula not to “God the Son”, but to common people, who are born by women. All mothers bring forth and give birth to the children, make people physically, but not all of them – spiritually. In principle, it is possible to contest also the physical making of a son by the mother and to ascribe it to the competence of God or, at the least, of genetics. But if “God the Son” was born of “God the Father”, moreover “eternally”, i.e. without either women or genes, then he may be made by nobody except God.
And what about “one in being with the Father”?
When, according to the Old Testament, God created the human in his image, it is more or less understandable. But if to interpret “one in being” literally, there was no Christ, God took Jesus’ image himself, came to the Earth, prayed to himself and talked with himself (in the beginning of the 3rd century Sabellius, one of the founders of “Modalistic Monarchianism”, taught so).
If that is not so, then “one in being” must not be understood literally. Consequently, Christ was an independent person. The major Churches do not contest that. But if Jesus of Nazareth is also a god, then we have two gods (with the Holy Spirit – three), and we turn out to be Polytheists (bluntly speaking, pagans).
Only one variant of the concept of “one in being” remains: Christ is the image of God. We, as it is well known, also are such (Gen. 1:26). Consequently, Jesus may be “one in being” only with us, people, and we shall have the possibility to make sure of that many times.
And what about the “Third hypostase of the Trinity”?
In spite of the fact that the Holy Spirit is considered to be in the same relations with God as “God the Son” (the only difference is that he is not “born”, but “proceeds”), in the “Creed” there are no formulas like “not made” and “one in being”. The Holy Spirit is simply declared as the third god (the giver of life, who is worshipped and glorified with the Father and the Son), without any reservation. A sort of that it means by itself that the third hypostase of the “Trinity” is same as the second one.
But it is possible to mean everything, but for the time present, we see in the official Creed nothing but Polytheism. With respect to “God the Son” – the concealed Polytheism, with respect to the Holy Spirit – the open.
There are some other contradictory moments in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. For example, Christ was born of the “Holy Spirit and Virgin Mary”, and in some words we read about the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from God. The Holy Spirit turns out to be something like a mediator in the birth of “God the Son”.
In principle, it is understandable, where this strange formula is from. The concept of the Holy Spirit in the Gospels, as we remember, is of very many meanings, and, according to Matthew, Mary became pregnant just of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18). We shall have another possibility to make sure that Apostle Matthew did not know the concept of “Trinity”, and his formula was simply brought to the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed from the Apostles’ one.
So called “Apostles’” Creed was formed in the end of the 2nd century, i.e. did not concern the Apostles. Nevertheless, let us quote it entirely – it is short and, as against the Niceno-Constantinopolitan, relatively simple and logical:
“I believe in God, the Almighty; and in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, the Lord, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate and buried, who the third day rose again from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God, from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead; and in the Holy Spirit, in the holy church, in the forgiveness of sins, in the resurrection of the flesh”.
We shall remember the last words of this Creed when we speak about the “life of the world to come”. And now let us only note that neither in the “Apostles’” nor in the Nicene Creeds it was said anything about the proceeding of the Holy Spirit, but in 381 CE in Constantinople according to the dogma of “Trinity” it was added that the Holy Spirit proceeds from God, and Christ turned out to be both “God the Son” and the “grandson” (the son of the independent Holy Spirit).
Probably, it would have been possible to speak about the great strength of traditions, because of which the Churches did not correct that “editorial” mistakes within one thousand six hundred years. But the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed is not a simple prayer. Every word in it has a great significance. And if we have found so many contradictions in this Creed, which is adjusted and grinded to the limit, then in many volumes of the “Canon law” the quantity of contradictions increases greatly.
To understand, if these contradictions are accidental, or they are unfair stratifications of “social” evil, it is necessary to apply to the origins of Christian religion.
We have already spoken that, in spite of the declarative denying of strict observance of Mosaic Law, Apostle Paul’s theology makes practically no difference between Jesus Christ and the Old Testament’s Messiah. Theologians of the major Churches do not argue with this and consider that a fundamentally new interpretation of Christ’s’ nature was given by John the Evangelist in the end of the 1st century.
We shall have to quote almost completely the introduction to the Gospel according to John, which initiated all following interpretations of the nature of Jesus Christ by the major Churches. I only remind that this Gospel was written in twenty–thirty years after the death of Apostle Paul, when the Church already was a large and branchy organization. So, let us read:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning was God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was the life; and the life was the light of men.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not the Light, but sent to bear witness of that Light.
That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world... “ (John 1:1-9).
“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory...” (John 1:12-14).
“No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18).
Exactly these fragments became the main theological base for the view at Christ as at “God the Son”. I accentuate – not yet for the dogma of “Trinity”, but only for the change from the Gospel’s concept of “the Son of God” to dogmatic “God the Son”.
And to understand how this change took place and how well founded it is, we shall need a relatively detailed historical review.
The beginning of persecutions of the Christians in the epoch of Emperor Trajanus (the beginning of the 2nd century) is the evidence that just at that time Christianity exceeded the bounds of a Judaic sect by the influence and the number of followers. The fact, that emperors noticed and began to struggle, is rather significant. Nero during his Judaic persecution in 64–65 CE had not yet distinguished Christians from Jews and murdered one after another.
And in the end of the 1st–the beginning of the 2nd century, Christianity grew into a religion of all-empire scale and faced a problem: how to explain to the masses of pagans, to whom the Christians worship? To God – yes, but to what God? To the same as Jews worship, or not?
This question was not idle for every christianizing pagan, – If I have to pray not to Zeus or Apollo, then to whom? To Judaic Jehova? And what is then the difference between Christianity and Judaism?
To understand an explanation about the Messiah, it was
necessary to know the Old Testament. Not everyone knew it even in
That is why in the 2nd century the Christians needed “own” God, to differ from Judaism. At that time, Christ began to be called a god along with God the Father.
In the beginning of the 2nd century, people did not yet ask questions, why there were two gods in Monotheism. Christianity was, first of all, “a religion for poor men”, and among poor men at that time there were few educated people. But, nevertheless, a theological basis for the divine nature of Christ, sooner or later, was to become necessary.
So, it was necessary to declare Christ a god and not to incur accusations of Polytheism. The task was not only greatly complicated, but also theoretically insoluble.
Nobody could “abolish” God the Father and replace him with Christ – that would have contradicted with the Gospels too much. But, as it is well known, if it is necessary to think something out, it will be thought out in each case.
Justin Philosopher (abt.100–165) thought out the following: having referred to fragments of the Gospel according to John, which are known to us – “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1) and “The Word was made flesh” (John 1:14), he interpreted that fragments literally and declared Christ as “God’s Word”, which was made flesh and came to the Earth.
The oddity of this approach at that time was not striking, because Justin, basing on Greek philosophy, identified the phrase “The Word was with God” with the term “Logos”, which was often used by Greeks.
As a matter of fact, “logos” is translated as “word”, but Socrates meant the “true word” (logic, source and criterion of objective knowledge) by it, Heracleitus meant the rational basis of nature, the Stoics – organizing origin which was independent of God, Plato – reason, providence, discourse, proof and speech, and Aristotle – the true nature of every thing.
Contrary to the widespread stereotype that Philo Judaeus made a serious influence to Christian dogmatics, his interpretation of “Logos” was rather different from Justin’s one. “Logos”, according to Philo, did not exist separately from God, but was the idea of the conceivable world, the “idea of ideas”. In fact, “Logos” turned out to be one of manifestations of God.
And by Justin, “Logos” meant the divine reason, which was made flesh and came to the Earth in the person of Christ. So this synthesis of Christian theology and Greek philosophy – the identification of Christ and “Logos” – originated. And since “Logos” was considered by all Greek philosophers as something like supreme reason, this identification in the conditions of Christianity meant the acknowledgement of Christ as a god in fact. To put it more precisely, “God the Son”.
“God the Son” and “the Son of God” seem to sound almost equally, but actually the difference turned out to be fundamental and became the basis of the dogma of “Trinity”, which appeared in two hundred years after Justin’s death.
So, referring to the words “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1) and “The Word was made flesh” (John 1:14), Justin declared Christ to be “God the Son” – the “Logos”.
We have understood that in the 2nd century that conformed to political purposes of the Church, which needed its “own” god. But is the identification of Christ with the “Logos” in respect to theology, which, in principle, must base on the Holy Scripture and solve no political problems, rightful?
Let us remember the beginning of the book of Genesis: “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). We see that God created the world by the word, and his first words were: “Let there be light”.
And now let us look at the quoted beginning of the Gospel according to John.
Nobody saw God (John 1:18), and the beginning of the world was in God’s word (John 1:3). In this case, the “Word” means also the acts of God for the creation of the world (Gen. 1:3). This meaning of the “Word” is confirmed by a reference to the Book of Psalms: ‘By the word of the Lord were the heavens made... For he spake, and it was done” (Ps. 33:6-9).
The Word is inseparable from God, and there is no other way of cognizing God – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). The Word of God was brought to us by the Son of God – Christ, in Christ it became flesh (John 1:14), i.e. the specific expression. Jesus was the light for people (John 1:7-9).
John called Jesus the “Word” marginally and once (John 1:14), and the “Light” – directly and many times (John 1:7-9; 3:19; 12:46).
Moreover, John used the concept of “Word” also in contexts, which completely exclude the identity of Christ and the “Word”:
“He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).
“Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (John 15:3).
“I John, who also am your brother, and companion in
tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle
that is called
So why did Justin identify Christ with the “Word”, and, for example, not with the Divine Light?
We have already understood the political motivation of Justin. And to understand his theological motivation, we shall have to remember the philosophic school, which is called Gnosticism.
Many professional philosophers of the 2nd and 3rd century, having come enthusiastic about Christianity as a “fashionable” idea, could not avoid attempts to create some kind of a “full-scale” philosophic system on its base.
In that purposes, a number of doctrines were “put” into Christianity. Concepts from Buddhism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Manicheism and many other philosophic and religious systems were used, but Greek philosophy was the highest on the list of “popularity”.
Gnosticism is the general name for all these “synthetic” philosophic systems.
Christ’s contemporary Philo of Alexandria was the direct precursor of Gnosticism, with his synthesis of Judaism and Greek philosophy. And in the 2nd century different philosophers, who used the Holy Scripture, were called Gnostics.
Gnostics thought out a number of “fresh” concepts. “Demiurge”, “Archon”, “365 Astral Angels”, “Panspermia”, “Sophia with her husband, The Desired” and “Pleroma” – all this eclectics took place in their doctrines. And according to “conjuncture” considerations, Jesus Christ became the central figure of those teachings.
Jesus was declared either the “fragrance of the Holy Spirit” or the “New Eon” or a phantom... Gnostics considered the world either as an illusion, or as a trial, or as a punishment, consisting either of three levels, or of 365 spheres, or of 30 “eons”...
In short, Gnostics supposed that Christianity was too simple and axiomatic, and if it had not been “colored” by specific philosophic terms, and if all concepts had not obtained “loud” and spectacular names, then serious people would not have accepted it.
This point of view turned out to be extremely enduring. “Logos” (“God’s Word”) and Sophia (“God’s Wisdom”) are the most well known Gnostic concepts, which penetrated Churches’ dogmatics and implanted in it. The first became the predecessor of the “Trinity”, and the second became the “banner” of the “Russian religious Renaissance”.
“Logos” and “Sophia” are connected tightly, and their “spheres of competence” are almost identical – Gnostics made the Greek word “Sophia” a proper name and gave it a very wide spectrum of power.
It was spoken many times in the Holy Scripture about God’s wisdom (Prov. 8:22; Luke 11:49; 1 Cor. 1:24; the Apocryphic Book “The Wisdom of Solomon”), but that wisdom had a personal character only in metaphorical sense. But the Greek pagan’s tradition of deification of all natural phenomenons (Eos – a dawn, Thanatos – a death, Hypnos – a sleep, Ares – a war etc.) yielded its fruits. The same happened to “Logos”, but it was identified with Christ.
However, for a long time “Sophia” was identified not only with God’s wisdom, but also with the Mother of God – Gnostics needed a “female basis” of the world.
“Sophia” was also often mentioned in connection with the creation of the world, because, of course, it was difficult to deny Creator’s wisdom. It turned out that “Sophia” was something like a “matrix” of the creation of the world, and “Logos” was the specific filling of that “matrix”.
In the first millennium CE, “Sophia” was also used as
an analogue of the Holy Spirit, and as a symbol of the Christian Church, and as
a personification of state systems and all medieval ideas of the “order” on the
Earth. It is no wonder that the greatest Byzantine and Russian cathedrals –
“Sophias” of Constantinople, of
However, the worship of “Sophia” did not exist in
Now the overwhelming majority of people consider that “Sophia” is a common female name, which originates from the legendary martyr Sophia. The destiny of Gnostic “Logos” was more fortunate: it remained in the Church dogmatics thanks to the dogma of “Trinity”.
But “Sophia” was not completely forgotten. The majority of philosophers of the “Russian religious Renaissance” took a great interest in Gnosticism as in a synthesis of Christianity and “genuine” philosophy. For example, Vladimir Solovyov included into his teaching some Gnostic concepts (first of all, “Sophia”) together with Christian ones. Pavel Florensky, Serguey Bulgakov and the brothers Trubetskoj followed his footsteps.
And even now, “Sophiology” is a very popular school in Russian philosophy. And, reading the contemporary philosophic works where the concepts of God, Christ, “Trinity”, “Absolute”, “Logos”, “Sophia”, “Shambala”, “nirvana”, “karma”, “magic” etc. are mixed, I remember Gnostics, who underestimated a great capability of Christianity to satisfy all spiritual needs of the most serious people (even of professional philosophers).
Now, when we have understood the fundamental difference between Christianity and Gnosticism, it is necessary to state: Churches’ theology of the 2nd–3rd centuries proceeded along the path of Gnosticism. The same path was chosen by Patristics (teachings of so called “Fathers of the Church”) – from Athanasius of Alexandria to John of Damascus. As we shall see soon, all attempts of at least partial return to the teaching of Christ and the Apostles were declared heresies and pursued grimly.
Unfortunately, it is quite logical that Churches consider Justin Philosopher, who declared Christ to be “Logos”, as the founder and the first representative of Patristics.
As a matter of fact, Philo was a contemporary of Jesus, lived in Alexandria, not in Judaea. That is why Christ scarcely knew about his teaching, and if even knew, scarcely based on it – the Old Testament’s prophets were enough for Jesus.
And by all philosophical and theologian criterions, Philo’s teaching had no connection with Christianity. Philo Judaeus was the predecessor not of Christianity, but of Gnosticism, which became a path for Patristics.
For example, “Logos” was the central dogma of the system of Tertullian, who considered that, before the coming to the Earth, Jesus existed in some form, but in unity with God the Father, as the “Internal Word”. After the birth, Christ became the “Said Word”.
The Holy Spirit was present in Tertullian’s book, and that gave some theologians of the major Churches a cause to declare him the founder of the dogma of “Trinity”. But in fact, his teaching had no relation to the “Trinity”, and this dogma appeared in more than a hundred years after his death.
Tertullian really wrote about the Holy Spirit, but only about the divine power, which “replaced” Christ on the Earth after his crucifixion. That was written also in the New Testament (John 20:22), so Tertullian only stated the well-known fact.
It is necessary to stop especially at the teaching of Origen. The point is that, independently of our treating to the Gnostic “Logos”, the divine essence of Christ has a number of confirmations in the Gospels and in the Epistles.
As an example, we can cite Jesus’ phrase: “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). It is impossible to doubt in its authenticity, because it became the result of the long theological discussion of Christ with orthodox Jews. So, how to interpret that words? Is Christ a god? But then we have two gods, and how to coordinate that with Monotheism?
Origen tried to do this – not unsuccessfully. He, as against Justin and Tertullian, did not speak about the identity of Christ and “Logos” and used the terms of “potential” and “actual” energies. Christ before his birth was “potential energy” of God, so he existed eternally. And then he came into the world and became “actual energy”.
It is often considered that Origen grounded the dogma of “Trinity”, when he called the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit by the divine hypostases. But in actual fact, he analyzed firstly the relations of God and Christ, having admitted only the Father as “absolute” God. The Holy Spirit, for his turn, proceeds from “God the Son” and relates to it approximately so, as “God the Son” to God, not being a god at that.
If we summarize all the said, Origen’s logic is quite understandable: Christ, having been born of God, created and left for us the Christian teaching – the Holy Spirit.
But a “slippery” question remained – how two gods can exist in Monotheism. And Origen called all people also as gods, to avoid accusations in Polytheism. By Origen, Jesus’ soul and the souls of all other people existed eternally, before the creation of the world (teaching about so called “preexistence of souls”). Let us remember the Psalm: “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High” (Ps. 82:6).
Thus, Origen started from the acknowledgement of Jesus as god, and finished at the acknowledgement of all us as gods.
In actual fact, it was still possible to accuse Origen in Polytheism, though there turned out to be many billions of gods – not two. We shall have the possibility to come back to this problem, speaking about possible “godifying” (theosis) of people.
But, nevertheless, the position “Christ is a god, but all people also are gods” has a serious basis in the Holy Scripture. But before the beginning of its detailed research, let us go on with our historical review. Our task is the understanding of the essence of the dogma of “Trinity”, and when we examine the way of its forming and understand its essence in respect to our methodology “Caesar’s – to Caesar”, we shall remember Origen’s position as one of alternatives.
In the 3rd century, the Church’s dogmatics did not exceed the limits of the analysis of the Holy Scripture, and the latter was the main argument in theological disputes.
But there was one exception – the deification of Jesus. We have examined the view on this item of three philosophers – Justin, Tertullian and Origen. But there was the fourth one – the view of Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyon. He considered that theories of Christ’s origin as “Logos” are unnecessary and even pernicious, because they complicate the understanding of Christian religion by believers. Putting on the first place the simplicity of perception of Christianity by masses of pagans, not refusing of the “own” Christian god at that, Irenaeus considered that there were God and “God the Son”, and that was enough for faith. He was not bothered by accusations of Bi-theism.
This position found a considerable echo among “rank” priests, who were occupied with missionary activities and did not obtain deeply insight into theological cobwebs.
But there was also a number of priests, who did not agree with Irenaeus and put forward a motto, which is difficult for translation, – something like “It is necessary to stick to monarchy”. In other words, they understood that the Church would sooner or later face accusations of paganism and that is why absolute and incontestable Monotheism was necessary.
There were two ways of “sticking to monarchy”.
So called “Monarchians-modalists” (from “modus” – a method of manifestation) saw in Jesus God himself, who took the human appearance, came to the Earth and was crucified.
That was advocated by Sabellius, who lived in the beginning of the 3rd century. We know almost nothing about him, but the Church still uses the “echoes” of his teaching – exactly Sabellius (not Tertullian and not Origen) was the first to introduce into relations of God and “God the Son” the third “hypostase”, the Holy Spirit. Exactly Sabellius declared all of them “one in being”.
But that did not save him, and he was declared a heretic at the Church Councils of 261 and 262 CE, because “one in being”, in Sabellius’ understanding, meant the full unity, i.e. one divine person in different manifestations. Consequently, according to Sabellius, it turned out that Christ, praying to God, was praying to himself, and speaking with God, was speaking to himself. That was too strange.
Furthermore, the teaching of “modalists” resembled Docetism (from Greek “to seem”) – a teaching of the 2nd century. In due time we have not paid attention to it, because it had no clear position, no pronounced leader and consisted of a number of trends (many of them became parts of Gnosticism later). The essence of Docetism may be briefly expressed as the negation of the corporal existence of Christ. According to Docets, some ghost came to us, hanged on a cross and flew away into heaven. No Christ, but a hallucination of Matthew, John, Peter and others.
Such “mass hypnosis” was unbelievable even in the 2nd century, and very few people apprehended Docetism seriously.
But let us return to Monarchianism. So called “Monarchians-Dynamists” considered that Christ was an earthly human, in whom the divine force acted. The name “Dynamists” originated from this – “dynamo” is translated from Greek as “force”.
It is reputed that the first “Monarchians-Dynamists” were half-legendary Theodotus the Tanner and Theodotus the Money-changer, who lived at the turn of the 2nd and 3rd centuries. And in the middle of the 3rd century, this christological school was leaded by Paul of Samosata, the bishop of Antioch. The latter, being in good relation with Zenobia, queen of Palmira and Syria (a vassal of Rome), as early as in the 3rd century made Christianity a state religion of local (Syrian) scale, even combined the bishopric with a high post in Syrian government. However, his opponents asserted that he came presumptuous, considered himself a great person, and even put his name into some hymns in honor of the Saviour.
Nevertheless, it was difficult to deny Paul’s soberness of mind. But the Church needed “God the Son”, and the teaching of Paul of Samosata was declared a heresy in 269 CE, at the Church Council in Antioch.
Since we have started to examine the most well-known early-Christian heresies, let us note that in the 2nd–3rd centuries nobody was faggoted for them. Christianity faced persecutions now and again, and the role of Inquisition was played by Roman emperors, who killed all Christians, in spite of an extent of their orthodoxy. Theological disputes were often held in famous catacombs, were quiet and polite, and heretics-bishops were degraded seldom – it was difficult to find a new candidature for such a dangerous post.
However, Paul of Samosata was defrocked and turned out of the bishop’s house by force after the condemnation at the Council of 269, because persecutions ceased at that time, rulers of Syria were stable patrons of the Christians, so the Antioch episcopacy was a “snug lob”.
So, by the beginning of the 4th century, Monarchianism actually disappeared, and the Church came to the bloom in the time of Constantine the Great with the ambiguous, but relatively simple definition of Christ as “God the Son”, i.e. as the second god. Both “official” points of view – of Irenaeus and Justin – had practically equal rights.
The place of Monarchianism was in a half of a century taken by the most mass heresy of all times and peoples – Arianism. The epoch had already fundamentally changed – Constantine the Great was the emperor.
In 318, against the background of total euphoria over the victory of Christianity, the Alexandrian presbyter Arius began a dispute with his bishop Alexander. Soon not only the Church but the majority of population of the Empire joined to that dispute.
Arius based on “Dynamic Monarchianism” of Paul of Samosata, but with a fundamental difference, which concerned the identity of Christ and the “Word”.
Paul of Samosata completely denied Gnostic ideas of Justin Philosopher and radically considered that the identification of Christ and “Logos” was absurd. According to Paul, Christ was a man, and “Logos” – the divine nature, which had been given to him by God.
Arius did not go so far and hold to the line of Justin, with the only difference: he asserted that “God the Son” was not eternal and had no beginning, since he was a son. And even if he was born, as it was supposed to “Logos”, he had not existed before his birth.
Arius’ opponent, Bishop Alexander, supported one of Origen’s ideas, which, strange though, became an official position of the Church: “God the Son”, being “eternally born”, is eternal and had no beginning at least because there is no beginning of eternity.
From the point of view of the modern understanding of eternity, this dispute had no sense, because the birth of “God the Son” is infinitely far, eternity is also infinite, but the opponents are trying to define which infinity is longer. Which of two infinite numbers is greater? In our time, it is not necessary to be a mathematician to understand that this question is incorrect.
But if not to speak about theological-mathematical eccentricities, Arians intuitively understood that since the matter concerns the relation “Father-Son”, “God the Son” appeared later than “God the Father”, and, according to Arius, “there was time when he did not exist”.
It is possible that Arius’ opponents intuitively understood the same, but further development of this idea led to quite undesirable conclusions about the divine essence of Christ. Under the acknowledgement of Arius’ position, two different divine persons in each case turned out to be: God, who is eternal and has no beginning, and “God the Son”, who is “less” eternal and has a beginning. Consequently, no casuistry could cover the fact that there were two different gods, and to avoid accusations in paganism, it was necessary to take the viewpoint of Paul of Samosata, which was condemned in 269, and to acknowledge that Christ was a man.
Aruis did not make bold to go so far and thought out the term “the Son, who is similar in being with the Father” – something average between the divine and human natures of Christ. However, masses of people and “rank” priests interpreted Arius’ teaching in the way that Jesus was the same human as we are.
Athanasius, Alexander’s successor at the post of the bishop of Alexandria, the most irreconcilable opponent of Arius, later was called the Great. The same “title” was given to Basil of Caesaria, his disciple and follower. And there was one more “great” opponent of Arianism – the religious writer Macarius the Egyptian.
Let us note that during all previous and following times only one more theologian was honored in the title of the “Great” – Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas’ teacher (above all, because Albertus “had luck” with the disciple). There were only two “great” popes – Leo I and Gregory I, and no “great” patriarchs. Some especially ascetic monks were called “Great”, and that is all.
It turns out that three of four “great” theologians obtained their titles in the struggle against Arianism, and this confirms the scale of the latter.
It is interesting that in the polemics of Athanasius and Arius, the viewpoint of Origen triumphed last time and inclined the public opinion, however paradoxically, to Athanasius’ position. As we remember, Origen said that Christ is a god, but we all are also gods. That worked splendidly against Arius, because he, denying the eternality of Christ, also denied the teaching of Origen. The latter acknowledged the preexistence of souls of all people, including Christ, and people always wanted to be somewhat gods. Basil of Caesaria said very showy and, above all, in proper time: “God became a man for a man became a god”.
As regards people, the position of the Church changed soon: when it was necessary to appeal to broad masses, Athanasius and Basil named everyone a god, but when Arianism was defeated, the divine essence of people was quickly forgotten, and people in about fifty years, in the times of Aurelius Augustine, turned out to be “loathsome receptacles of sin”.
But let us digress the terminology of the official Church (though it is quite indicative) and establish that even now we, doing our best, will not be able to clear up who was right – Arius or Athanasius. The point is that their polemics quickly became a completely scholastic dispute, and that bereaved Arius of the only chance for victory – of the appeal to common sense. Finally, as we have seen, they both were not right, trying to compare two concepts of eternity.
It is no wonder that disputes on Arianism – a heresy or a canon to be – lasted for minimum three centuries. Against the background of fundamentally insoluble theological problem, a number of political problems appeared.
And in the political aspect, everything looked like the following.
When Constantine, after the victory over Licinius, captured the Eastern part of the Roman Empire, he faced the discord in bishops’ minds and, first of all, ordered to cease “vain disputes”. The disputes did not cease. Then Constantine called the Nicene Council of 325 and was its chairman himself.
As it is well known, Arius’ opponents won at the Council, and Arius together with some bishops was condemned and exiled. The Nicene Creed was accepted, and the words about “the Son begotten of the Father” – “eternally”, “not made”, “one in being” appeared in it. Consequently, Christ was officially acknowledged as “God the Son”.
The winners were called “Homoousians” (from Greek “homoous” – “one in being”). It is interesting that Arius’ followers were called “Homoiousians” (from Greek “similar in being”). How many human destinies were broken because of one letter...
But the Homoousians, who had won at Nicene Council, were waited by many more ordeals. Their main postulate “the Son is one in being with the Father” did not stand up to any criticism: it had been proposed even in 269 CE at the Council, which condemned Paul of Samosata. But that postulate had been rejected for the evident discrepancy – how may two different persons, God and “God the Son”, be “one in being” so far to be single God?
Moreover, the term “one in being” was used by the “Modalist” Sabellius, and in his understanding, “one in being” of the Son and the Father, as we remember, meant one person. That was no less absurdity – it turned out that Christ, praying to God, prayed to himself...
It is no wonder that in three years Arians succeeded to win Constantine over to their side. In 328, Arius and his adherents were released from an exile, and in 335 at the Council in Tyre, Athanasius was deprived of his bishopric and sent, in his turn, to an exile.
Arius of Alexandria died in 336. After Constantine’s death in 337, Athanasius and Homoousians returned from the exile and got episcopacies, but not for long: Arian Eusebius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, in 339 demoted Athanasius again. The latter left for Rome, to Pope Julius, who acquitted him at the Council of 340.
Not to tire the readers by the plots of intrigues, which were weaved around Emperors by both sides, let us only note that Athanasius was demoted in 355 again, Emperor Julian the Apostate gave him the episcopacy back in 361, but in a year took it away. By the middle of 360s, Arianism won almost everywhere.
Athanasius of Alexandria died in 373, but his work was continued by Basil of Caesaria and Gregory of Nazianzus, who was called Gregory the Theologian later.
The Homoousians (adherents of “one in being”) tried to turn the attention from the person of Christ, which was emphasized by the Arians, to scholastic “God the Son”. We have seen that it was not simple, a “fresh idea” was needed, and Athanasius put it forward in the end of 330s, and Basil and Gregory developed it in 360–370s.
That idea – the declaration of the Holy Spirit as a god – became a “trump card” in the political game of two homoousian church groups in 340–350s.
One of them was headed by Macedonius I, the Patriarch of Constantinople. The second group included the Patriarch of Constantinople Paul I, Pope Julius I, as well as the bishops-theologians Athanasius of Alexandria, Basil of Caesaria and Gregory of Nazianzus.
Macedonius and Paul were active opponents of Arianism, but that did not make their interrelation better. Paul was the Patriarch in 337-339, then in 341-342, then in 346-351, and Macedonius was the Patriarch in 342-346, then in 351-356. One more Patriarch of Constantinople, Arianin Eusebius, “wedged” between them in 339-341, and in 360, Arian Eudoxius became the Patriarch for long.
Can you imagine the heat of the political struggle in the Church?
The politician Paul needed a theologian basis for the struggle against the politician Macedonius. The theologian Athanasius elaborated it, and that was the Holy Spirit, which was made the “third hypostase of the Trinity”.
Macedonius considered that the making the Holy Spirit the third god was unnecessary and excessive – the Church’s dogmatics had already been too complicated. Athanasius, Basil and Gregory used that Macedonius’ position and led the disputes to pure scholastics, in which they, as professional theologians, were stronger.
Only one of these Homoousian leaders, Gregory of Nazianzus, lived up to the beginning of 380s. Having become the Patriarch of Constantinople in 379, he managed to incline Emperor Theodosius I to his side and to pass the dogma of “Trinity” in 381 at the 2nd Ecumenical Council.
It is characteristic that nothing was said about the origin of the Holy Spirit in the Nicene Creed of 325, and the words: “The Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father (and the Son), with the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified, he has spoken through the Prophets”, were the addition of the 2nd Ecumenical Council. That addition was not made detailed. Gregory of Nazianzus, being the chairman of the Council, avoided superfluous conflicts with followers of the former Patriarch, Macedonius, and did not accentuate vexed questions.
What a frank Polytheism turned out as a result, we have already seen, when we were analyzing the Nicene-Constantinople Creed.
Nevertheless, the “Trinity” was convenient for the Emperor and for the majority of bishops: at that moment (I accentuate – only at that moment) it was a stabilizing dogmatic compromise and was working for the political image of the Church.
Firstly, Athanasius, Basil and Gregory, having elaborated and defended the dogma of “Trinity”, created the cult of the Holy Spirit, which symbolized Christian religion (headed by the Church), equally with the cult of Christ,
Secondly, they brought Christian religion to a very showy “triple” form.
The digit “
Thus, the dogma of “Trinity” became a strong psychological factor. When the Holy Spirit turned out to be “one in being” with the Father, together with “God the Son”, the Church’s theology came to a complete, showy, alienated from any reality and self-sufficient system.
The third god, the Holy Spirit, proved to be very convenient for claims of the Church for state power and property, since the Church declared itself as its “keeper”, and that became a decisive political factor.
The fact that the “Trinity” was based on the teaching of the “Modalist” Sabellius, did not agitate the winners.
And what can we say about the “Trinity” in theological aspect?
We have already said, and shall say more than once about Jesus: the declaration of Christ as of the “second hypostase of the Trinity” has no serious basis in the Holy Scripture.
And concerning the Holy Spirit, we see the considerable spread of positions of the Evangelists, to the extent that it was left by Christ’s blow (John 20:22). But it is important for us that the Holy Spirit appears nowhere as a self-dependent god. Somewhere God the Father is called so (Matt. 1:18), somewhere the Holy Spirit appears as God’s envoy (Matt. 4:1), somewhere in the form of a dove (Luke 3:22). But in the overwhelming majority of instances, it is spirituality or the Christian teaching (Luke 4:1; 11:13; John 3:34; 15:26; 16:13 etc.)
The great significance was given to the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, to the extent that Jesus said: “And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him the blasphement against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven” (Luke 12:10). It is possible to do a number of far going conclusions. For example, it turns out that Christ was ready to forgive the non-acceptance of his teaching – of Christianity, if people lived in concordance with Christian spiritual covenants...
But, besides, all aforesaid has no bearing on the dogma of the “Trinity”. On the contrary, Christ showed the principal difference between the Son of Man and the Holy Spirit, i.e. it is impossible to speak about their dogmatic “one in being”.
A frequently quoted phrase of Jesus “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 28:19) says nothing about the nature and relations of the “hypostases” and is useless for our research. Defenders of the “Trinity” refer to it absolutely in vain – there is nothing but an ordinary enumeration of well-known concepts.
Opponents of the “Trinity” call that phrase a forgery, and that is another extreme. It is quite normal to baptize in the name of God, Christ and Christianity. The dogma of the “Trinity” includes much more concepts than the enumeration of the names of God, the Son of God and the Holy Spirit, and here we see neither “one in being” nor “not made”.
Usually a quote of the First Epistle of John is cited in defense of the dogma of the “Trinity”. But we are going to show that there is a forgery in this Epistle. It is impossible to identify the “author” of this forgery, but the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament, which reached us, are dated by the 4th century. And that was the height of the struggle against Arianism.
It is not astonishing that somebody of “interested” copyists or interpreters inserted the following phrase into the First Epistle of John: “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one” (1 John 5:7). It is the dogma of the “Trinity” almost literally. All three “hypostases” and their “one in being” are mentioned.
The authenticity of 1 John 5:7 was called in question by some Protestants even in the 19th century, but there were cited only arguments concerning the absence of the words about the “Trinity” in some manuscripts and their isolation from the context of the surrounding phrases. Nevertheless, those words are absent in the contemporary official German translation of the Bible, which was made by Catholics and Protestants together.
But, of course, Germany is not an authority for other countries, that is why let us cite one more argument against the authenticity of 1 John 5:7.
An unknown forger inserted the phrase “For there are three... The Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost”, but he forgot to explain, what the “Word” meant! In the beginning of the Epistle, there is the “Word of life” (1 John 1:1), but it is impossible to understand unambiguously if it is about Christ or not.
And in the Gospel according to John, as we have seen, Christ is not interpreted directly as the “Word”. Moreover, the First Epistle of John is dated by the end of the 60s, and the Fourth Gospel was written no less than twenty years later.
All that was not taken into consideration by the “author” of the forgery, for whom, after the hot disputes of the 4th century, the identity of Christ and “Logos” seemed to be a natural and well-known fact – even Arius did not dare to deny that.
And Apostle John the Evangelist, not knowing, to what forgery his Epistle will be exposed, wrote in it: “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?” (1 John 2:22). Thus, as a matter of fact, John considered Jesus to be the Messiah according to the Old Testament and did not say anything about the “Trinity”.
Let us look if Apostle Paul wrote something on the subject of the “Trinity”.
The Orthodox and Catholic traditions consider a phrase of the Epistle to Romans, where it is said about God: “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things” (Rom. 11:36), to be “trinitary”.
But where is here the dogma of the “Trinity”? We see nothing but the thrice-repeated glorification of God. We have already spoken about that psychological factor of the thrice-repeating.
Let us only note that an unfair tendency to the interpretation of any thrice-repeating in the Bible (like “Holy, holy, holy” – Rev. 4:8) as confirmations of the dogma of the “Trinity” is seen in many Churches’ books”. But in actual fact, thrice-repeating and trinitarism are quite different things, and let us not mix up a cause and an effect. A triangle would have remained the most stable and harmonious geometric figure independently upon the elaboration of any dogma.
The Old Testament’s “Trinity” is beneath criticism, in spite of the masterpieces of icon painting, which were devoted to it.
Usually the following quote is cited in its defense: “And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us” (Gen. 3:22). Basing on the words “one of us”, the theologians of the main Churches suppose that the world was created not by God, but by the “Trinity”, and it seems to be logical that in this episode God says about himself in plural.
But it is logical until the moment when Adam became “one of us”. Then not three but four gods appear (possibly many billions if to consider Adam’s posterity).
In actual fact, it is mostly possible that the usage of plural “us” with respect to God is a nicety of the solemn style of ancient Hebrew language. The same relates to the words of God “Let us make...” (Gen. 1:26).
It is also possible that if God stood a Cherub to
Without any more serious references, the apparition of God and two Angels in the house of Abraham (Gen. 18:2) is considered as an apparition of the “Trinity”.
Actually, at first Abraham saw “three men”. On this basis, the whole dogmatic of the Old Testament’s “Trinity” is built, and these “three men” are shown on icons as enjoying a meal under a tree (Gen. 18:8).
But then God went away, having left two Angels (Gen. 18:33; 19:1). Just the Angels, neither “God the Son” nor the Holy Spirit, and henceforth that was accentuated repeatedly.
Moreover, that Angels were later nearly raped in
And let us finally remember that the word “Trinity” is mentioned nowhere in the Holy Scripture.
Sergey Zagraevsky © 2004