The Development Of The Trinity Through Controversy -- By: Daniel Janosik

Journal: Christian Apologetics Journal
Volume: CAJ 11:1 (Spring 2013)
Article: The Development Of The Trinity Through Controversy
Author: Daniel Janosik

The Development Of The Trinity Through Controversy

Daniel Janosik

What is the relationship between theology and apologetics in the development of the doctrine of the Trinity? How was heresy used to spur on orthodoxy in regard to the Trinity? What re–invented heterodoxical challenges needed to be contextualized with clearer language and updated interpretations? This brief article will document how various theologians countered specific heresies, how their struggles to “hammer out” better explanations led to the use of innovative language and greater clarity, and how, after they had formulated the doctrine of the Trinity in the Nicene Creed, they were faced with having to re–contextualize the doctrine as new and re–invented heresies arose over time to challenge the orthodox position. This overview will also explain how heresies tend to go to one extreme or the other. In regard to the Trinity, they tend to emphasize either the unity of God or the distinctions of the three persons. Only what became known as orthodoxy could balance the two extremes.

Early Church (33-100)

In the period of the Early Church the Apostles, especially Peter, John, and Paul, defended the “faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3) against various challenges. Believers were called “tritheists” because they were thought to worship three gods. They were threatened by Docetism,1 a form of Gnosticism, which taught that Jesus was in reality a spiritual being, in the appearance of a man, and that he only appeared to suffer and die.2 Finally, early Christians were slandered, persecuted, and martyred by the Roman Empire. Yet in the midst of these trials, they held fast to their faith, which was often expressed in simple creedal statements like “Jesus is Lord.” They also recited the triadic formula, “in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost” at baptisms, but this seemed to have been accepted without much introspection (Matt. 28:19).3

The first Christians understood that “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” somehow still related to “one God” though they had not worked out the relationship at this time. The relationship between the “one God and three persons” was accepted as something beyond understanding, but still essential for belief. They knew, somehow, that the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; that the Son is not Father, the Holy Spirit is not the Son or the Father; and that there is only one God. Thus, the task of early...

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