Take the 2-minute tour ×
Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Many historians and religious scholars ... attest to the influence of Greek or Platonic philosophy in the development and acceptance of the Trinity doctrine in the fourth century. ... the famous Greek philosopher Plato ... believed in a divine triad of "God, the ideas, [and] the World-Spirit,". (Source)

The easiest way to verify the authenticity of this claim would be to check if any of the early church fathers believed in trinity. (Please note by early I mean the <= 300 AD)

share|improve this question
add comment

7 Answers

up vote 17 down vote accepted

The Apostles Creed dating from 390 A.D. quite clearly articulates an understanding of our faith revolving around the three persons we identify as the members of the Trinity as core to the faith. It makes up almost half of the total text.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
   the Maker of heaven and earth,
   and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
   born of the virgin Mary,
   suffered under Pontius Pilate,
   was crucified, dead, and buried;

It is clearly understood both today and in it's time that this creed was affirming a belief in One God and at the same time identifying how he is revealed to us. While it doesn't use the term Trinity nor define the mixed natures as clearly as later creeds and confessions, It is unlikely that such a creed would have seen the near universal acceptance as articulating the core of Christian belief if it went against the teachings of the church fathers of the previous three centuries. The lack of controversy on this topic is remarkable. We do know people who taught otherwise, such as the Gnostics and Arians, but part of the purpose of this Creed was to emphatically reject them, a standard that has continued throughout mainstream Christian history.

Before moving on, it would be remiss not to point out that the most emphatic and authoritative writings on this matter in the first couple centuries are in fact the Scriptures themselves. Looking in material written by "early fathers" for clues about what they did or did not believe without first and foremost considering the teachings found in the pages of the Bible their actions as church fathers helped to Canonize would be a disservice to them.

That being said we do have clear evidence that the early Fathers did believe in the Trinity. Few of them used that word, but the words they did use fit the formula. For example Polycarp lived from 70 A.D somewhere in the mid first century. Here's how he prayed:

"O Lord God almighty... I bless you and glorify you through the eternal and heavenly high priest Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through whom be glory to you, with Him and the Holy Spirit, both now and forever."

While that statement was simply an affirmation of the three persons without directly trying to define their relation to each other, other early Fathers such as Theophilus from the late first century did remark on how they relate:

It is the attribute of God, of the most high and almighty and of the living God, not only to be everywhere, but also to see and hear all; for he can in no way be contained in a place.... The three days before the luminaries were created are types of the Trinity, God, his Word, and his Wisdom.

Likewise Justin (another Martyr and church leader from the first century) had this to say about baptism:

"For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water"

Clearly the three persons were at the center of the faith people were being inaugurated into. In another place, he comments specifically on the relation of these three persons to each other:

We will prove that we worship him reasonably; for we have learned that he is the Son of the true God himself, that he holds a second place, and the Spirit of prophecy a third. For this they accuse us of madness, saying that we attribute to a crucified man a place second to the unchangeable and eternal God, the Creator of all things; but they are ignorant of the mystery which lies therein.

By the first decade of the second century, we have quite a collection of declarations about the Trinity. Here is Tertullian:

And at the same time the mystery of the oikonomia is safeguarded, for the unity is distributed in a Trinity. Placed in order, the three are the Father, Son, and Spirit. They are three, however, not in condition, but in degree; not in being, but in form; not in power, but in kind; of one being, however, and one condition and one power, because he is one God of whom degrees and forms and kinds are taken into account in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The list goes on. I can't quote them all here but Ignatius the Bishop of Antioch, Irenaeus, a disciple of Polycarp and later Bishop of Lyons, Didache, Hippolytus, Novatian, Origen, and other Fathers through the first and second entries can all be quoted with emphatic articulations of the Trinity.

The exact formulation and best way to articulate this mystery has been widely debated in every age and language since. The above Fathers certainly had variying ideas about just what it meant to have a single God with three persons. We still struggle to wrap our heads around this today. And that's ok as long as we do not err on the side of either denying either the unity or diversity of his nature. We must not make out the persons of the Trinity to be separate beings nor deny that the one being is revealed to us in thee persons.

share|improve this answer
    
Great quotes. What source(s) did you use? –  Philip Schaff Aug 7 '12 at 22:38
3  
@JBunyan A couple of topical commentaries, a book on Trinity I happened to have on my desk, a Catholic history site that came up on Google and a couple Wikipedia articles. There is lots more, I honestly had no idea there was so much when I started writing. I figured I'd be pulling together a few threads, which is why I started with the "argument from lack of controversy over the later creed" but I found myself drinking from a fire hose. –  Caleb Aug 7 '12 at 22:43
add comment

Jesus never verified what Paul wrote thus indicating any made up stories can be present in the New Testament.

None of the Church Fathers were shown to quote Matthew 28:19 or 1John5:7 in their early days, however in the 4th century conceptology of 'three gods in oneness' were added to the original texts of Matthew 28:19 and 1John 5:7 thus showing how twisted were the minds of men inventing lies.

Early Church Fathers believed that there is only One Father the creator, creating all including God Son and Holy Spirit.

share|improve this answer
1  
This answer has a bunch of assertions with no evidence presented to back it up. Furthermore the assertions made are not generally accepted to be true. If you think this is actually the answer to the question, you will want to edit this answer with some references to backup the assertions you are making, verifying both the teachings of the church Fathers and the veracity of those records. Frankly I believe your final statement is blatantly contra-indicated by direct quotations from church fathers (see my answer). –  Caleb Aug 2 '13 at 10:12
1  
You might also want to check out What makes a good supported answer? for more information on what we want to see in answers around here. –  Caleb Aug 2 '13 at 10:12
add comment

If you take nothing but the New Testament, and preferably only the original Greek, remove ever bit of bias and emotional tendency, there is no way you are going to come to the conclusion that there are three gods in one. The overwhelming evidence clearly supports the following:

  1. Yeshua is the son of God and is the Messiah.
  2. Yeshua was created and did not have an eternal existence (Rev. 3:14)
  3. Yeshua was the first of God's creation (hence the "Alpha" and "Omegea"). God himself has no beginning nor end.
  4. Through Yeshua, God created the universe and man in His image. God was the architect. His son carried out his father's plan.
  5. God the Father is above the son. The son is subjected to the Father and thus they are not equal. Yeshua clearly states that the Father is "greater than me".
  6. God cannot be tempted, yet his son was.
  7. God the Father and Yeshua have separate wills: "Father, if you are willing, let this cup pass me. Nevertheless, your will be done." - Still, they were one in purpose.
  8. Yeshua always referred to God as his Father. He stated that he is returning to his God and "our" God.
  9. Yeshua died. God cannot die.
  10. Yeshua stated that he did NOT know when he would return. If he were God, he would have known.

The very first disciples of Yeshua were ALL Jewish and not a single Jew ever believed in multiple gods. The concept of multiple gods within a single god has its roots in paganism and none of the initial followers of Yeshua ever believed he was God. The Trinity is a fabrication of man having twisted the nature of Yeshua into some kind of mystery, even though according to scripture, his nature and origins are not a mystery. When you strip away the false doctrine of the Trinity, the true picture of the Son of God begins to emerge and pieces fall into place with a clear image of who he really was and is.

share|improve this answer
    
What are you trying to say here? –  Peter Turner Jun 27 '13 at 5:05
    
Welcome to the site! I appreciate and recognize the logic in this, but it goes beyond answering the question. Until the last two-three sentences it's a good answer, and addresses whether they believed it. After that, it goes beyond answering the question into arguing whether a particular doctrine is true or not, which goes against site guidelines. Whether or not they believed it is on topic. Whether or not it's true isn't. This isn't a site to debate Truth, just to explain what's taught. –  David Stratton Jun 27 '13 at 11:24
add comment

You can find evidence of trinitarian beliefs scattered throughout the Church father's writings and prescriptions, particularly those regarding baptism.

But, I'd posit you need to look no further than the gospels to show a belief in the Trinity. Specifically and most notably, refer to Matthew 28:19.

"make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit"

Here we have Christ being quoted, not as using a term like "trinity", but speaking effectively of a trinity in a manner equating its members, at least one of which is commonly understood to be God by the readers. And while this is given as a quote from Christ, we must recognize that the gospels were not written by Christ; they were compiled by the first believers, the Church Fathers.

A thorough review of the gospels would reveal there are no vain details included. And, they're written by the early believers (Church Fathers). Hence, we can reasonably assume that distinct trinitarian language in the gospels is a clear indication of trinitarian beliefs in the early Church.

share|improve this answer
add comment

The victors write the history, and the losers become labeled heretics. The "Trinity" was always a controversial subject and the idea that Jesus and God were one and the same was also always a controversial subject. The Trinity didn't become orthodoxy until the Pagan Emperor (NEVER a Christian) Constantine shoved it down Christianity's throat.

Constantine worshiped Sol Invictus and at that time it was a tenant of that pagan religion that ALL GODS were an expression of Sol Invictus. Constantine basically surrendered to the fact the Christianity swept over the empire and was the dominant religion. He needed to make peace with the Christians and bring them into the fold if he was to preserve the Empire. There was a titanic problem, however; Christianity back then was almost as diverse as it is today (there being - no lie- about 43,500 different Christian denominations worldwide today). He needed Christianity united and so HE called the first council at Nicea in 325 AD and demanded that the Christian bishops get their act together and form a single dogma/statement of faith and get their religion under one umbrella.

Well, they couldn't. The entire block of Bishops from the east (Greece, Armenia, modern day Turkey, etc.) held to a tradition where God was God and Jesus was NOT God, but his son, separate and distinct from him. Noetus of Smyrna (circa 190 AD) got booted out of the church for declaring God and Jesus as one and the same. Noetus came and settled in Rome where he picked up followers to follow his philosophy.

The Trinity also falls into this discussion where it was fiercely argued against. Prior to 325 AD it was one church arguing against another and then Constantine ended the argument at Nicea where he got tired of the arguing and stepped in to declare that God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit were all expressions of one god as he believed and learned from his religion of Sol Invictus. Arius, the famous church historian Eusebius and other bishops who did not believe in the Trinity or that God and Jesus were one and the same were kicked out of the Council for disagreeing with the Emperor and the Bishops who did believe in the Trinity. With these expelled bishops left the entire eastern contingent of bishops.

Years later Eubebius was able to get Constantine to reverse his edict but the seeds were already set. By 390 AD the Roman Emperor Theodosius was thoroughly Christian (unlike Constantine) and his brand of Christianity embraced the Trinity "denomination", and his radical belief in it caused him to declare all other brands of Christianity to be heresies punishable by death if anyone was caught practicing, promulgating any of these other denominations or caught using any other scriptures other than the canon (which was imposed on Christianity by Constantine and Theodosius).

It started another round of persecutions of Christians who didn't adhere to Theodosius' orthodoxy. This is why the Nag Hammadi scrolls were buried by those who regarded them as inspired because if caught with them they would have been put to death. The Trinitarian Orthodoxy has nothing to do with the truth, but more to do with the victor writing the history. Luckily enough fragments survive of the oppositions' views. In this scholar's opinion, the first Apostasy was the idea God and Jesus were one and the same and the Trinity falls right in there too with God now being three expressions.

share|improve this answer
    
Hi Mikjos, welcome to Christianity.StackExchange. This looks like a very well-researched answer, except for one detail: you didn't cite your research. It's one of our community standards around here that when giving an answer based on concepts that you can't reasonably expect to be common knowledge, you should cite your sources so that others can look over the research behind it. Would you mind editing your answer with a few links or other citations? Thanks. –  Mason Wheeler Nov 3 '12 at 3:26
3  
Quite honestly this answer reads like revisionist history itself and fails to engage the first hand statements of the early church fathers. I realize political wrangling happened for various reasons but that doesn't give us a reason to blow off every other factor. You haven't quoted a single early church father here which is what the original question was about. Their writings prior to the emperor shenanigans show clear beliefs in a triune God. –  Caleb Nov 3 '12 at 4:46
    
Well written. Anyone who has studied history will know that what you wrote is all true. There is no need to quote references. That is for lazy people who already are biased toward believing in the Trinity and any amount of quotations will never suffice. The very fact that Constantine murdered his son and wife and proclaimed a death sentence on anyone believing in Arianism (the anti-Trinity belief) is only more evidence that the Trinity was a work of Satan from the beginning. –  AndroidDev Jun 27 '13 at 4:57
add comment

The author of the original claim was probably trying to place the Trinity in a larger context of philosophical notions. The Catholic assertion that the Trinity is "One God, Three Persons" is related to the idea that God or Logos transcends any linguistic box we try to put him in, that God is larger than any collection of names, attributes, stories or distinctions could tell. In the object of the Trinity we see the inadequacy of language to completely describe God: "Is it one thing or three things?". From this perspective you could see a relationship with various schools of thought throughout the world. One could even see a relationship to the Zen koans, the absurd stories Zen masters would tell their initiates to help break their minds from dependence on words to understand.

share|improve this answer
    
Welcome to Christianity SE. That is a great first answer! –  Monika Michael Aug 8 '12 at 5:04
    
This doesn't address the original question about the beliefs of the early church fathers. Can you edit to hit on the issue asked about? –  Caleb Nov 3 '12 at 4:38
add comment

To quote the wikipedia article on the Trinity:

The first of the early church fathers recorded as using the word Trinity was Theophilus of Antioch writing in the late second century. He defines the Trinity as God, His Word (Logos) and His Wisdom (Sophia) in the context of a discussion of the first three days of creation. The first defence of the doctrine of the Trinity was in the early third century by the early church father Tertullian. He explicitly defined the Trinity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and defended the Trinitarian theology against the "Praxean" heresy.

Theophilus of Antioch died around 185 AD. He did not use the word "trinity" to directly describe the triune nature of God as we understand and believe today, but it was in reference to God "God, his Word (Logos) and his Wisdom (Sophia)."

It seems from the history with which I am familiar, that there were other pressing matters before the church in the first couple centuries, and a formal adoption of the term "trinity" and 'officialization' of the doctrine as a stance which the church took did not happen until the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, and it was taken to directly address the heresy of Arianism, which loosely states that Jesus is not equal to God, rather was created by God for the purpose of redemption.

Now - as to whether others taught it in recorded writings before the early 4th century, we do not know today. Trinitarians today will argue that because the doctrine is well-supported by both Christ and the Apostles that it must have been widely believed in the church, and only needed to be "addressed" when it came under attack (personally, I am of this belief), as was the case with some Apostolic writings wherein specific heresies are addressed (eg the Judaizers in Galatians).

share|improve this answer
5  
Excellent point on the Trinity not being a controversial issue until some heresy popped up that denied it and needed to be rejected in so many words. Throughout history many creeds and confessions are simply written to articulate what was already known to be orthodox teaching in direct response to some heresy that tried to redefine established doctrine. The councils that wrote them did not convene to generate new doctrines, they responded to conflicts by documenting what was agreed to be true on the issues of the day. –  Caleb Aug 7 '12 at 16:31
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.