Tracing the Thread of Trinitarian Thought from Ignatius to Origen -- By: Mark Hanson

Journal: Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal
Volume: MBTJ 01:2 (Fall 2011)
Article: Tracing the Thread of Trinitarian Thought from Ignatius to Origen
Author: Mark Hanson

Tracing the Thread of Trinitarian Thought
from Ignatius to Origen

Mark Hanson1


One of the most contested theological issues throughout church history is the doctrine of the Trinity. For many people the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD is a natural starting point for the orthodox position of the church regarding the Trinity. Prior to Nicaea the concept of the “Trinity” was not clearly defined or articulated, so the doctrine, as most understand it today, does appear at first glance to derive its founding from the events of that historic council which formed the common formulation in use today. But what of the earlier church fathers? Origen is often referenced as a key figure in the development of the formulation leading up to Nicaea,2 but this focus on a single individual neglects the development of others who had a hand in shaping doctrinal articulations for the following

decades. This then raises the important point that merely referencing one council, Nicaea, as “the” starting point or one man, Origen, as being “the” foundation “of many early fourth-century theologies,”3 is incomplete.

The purpose of this article is to explore how Origen’s predecessors viewed the relationship among the Godhead, and to examine if there was a developing theology prior to Origen. This study endeavors to determine if earlier church fathers developed their theologies along the same trajectory traced through Origen and then to the formula later articulated at Nicaea. As theological engagement passes down from one generation to the next, it would be logical to assume that the teaching found in Nicaea would be a synthesis from centuries of increasingly significant reflection. This will be evaluated by comparing Origen’s work and writings against five major contributors to early church theology: Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria.

Ignatius [A.D. 30-107]4

Ignatius is one of the earliest church fathers whose writings have been preserved. His correspondence has a genuinely pastoral, New Testament epistle-type flavor since the bulk of his extant writings are specifically addressed to churches in a manner similar to Paul. Quotations from Paul’s epistles in the New Testament comprise more of his writing than his own thoughts on almost any given subject.5 He viewed the Father as “the one true God.”You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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