Someone wrote me claiming that Theodosius I forced the whole Roman empire to believe in the Trinity doctrine in 381. He suggested a book, but the synopsis on Amazon was so bad there is no way I am going to read it. Here is my response to that synopsis.
One side note: Theodosius did make such a decree, but it was in 383. The Council of Constantinople is given credit for confirming the Nicene Creed and putting the Arian Controversy to rest. That happened in 381, but it’s not true that the Council of Constantinople ended the controversy. The book is correct that Theodosius ended the controversy. It is wrong in suggesting he created a new doctrine in doing so.
The following is thoroughly explained, using ancient histories, in my book, Decoding Nicea, which we should have available on Amazon in the next couple weeks. Until then, you can get a good taste of it (four chapters and appendices) at at Christian-history.org online for free. You can also buy the book already under the name In the Beginning Was the Logos on Kindle for just $4.99 (even though it’s a 460-page book). Don’t buy the print edition because the updated print edition will be out for $12.95 very soon.
Anyway, here’s my response. I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy it.
The Development of the Trinity: The True Story
The synopsis takes a fact and spins it into a falsehood, which would be normal if the writer is a politician. If he is pretending to be a historian, however, he ought not to twist truths into non-truths.
Truth is that there was no argument at all over the subject of the Father and Son in the early days of the church. They had a definite belief that was universally accepted. Arius challenged that believe in 318. He was simply excommunicated, as one lone elder has no ability to overthrow the long established teaching of the Church. He managed to get a politically inclined bishop to back him, however, so it became a controversy among churches in the East (and in the eastern Roman empire only).
The Council of Nicea should have simply ended that controversy, but it didn’t. The church had let the emperors meddle in church affairs, and Eusebius of Nicomedia (not to be confused with his contemporary, Eusebius the historian) swung the opinions of the royal court and soon of the emperor toward the Arian heresy.
Constantius, Constantine’s son, took the side of the Arians in 337, and the battle was on, though it only once affected the western empire.
Finally, an elder of the Novatians* made a brilliant suggestion. What the church had not lost was a respect for their ancestors. The elder suggested to the bishop in Constantinople that he tell Emperor Theodosius to ask Arian and semi-Arian sects whether they agreed that the church should hold to the opinions of the fathers of the church before them. None could say no because the people would have rejected them.
*Novatians: followers of Novatian, who split the church in Rome in the 250’s over the repentance of Christians who lapsed during persecutions. There was little difference between the Novatians and the united apostolic churches, so they eventually just came back together again.
The emperor then asked them to prove their case from the writings of the fathers, the leaders of the apostolic churches. Of course, they could not, so he banished them from the major cities. He did not disband them. He did not make it illegal to hold to Arian or semi-Arian views.
In the end, the accurate Nicene definition triumphed, but not for long. It was mixed with modalist* ideas, which had existed in the background or under the surface since near the time of the apostles, and it turned into our modern co-equal Trinity, something a bit different than the Nicene definition and the beliefs of the earlier leaders of the church.
*Modalist: There is one God who is one person who operates in three “modes.” He’s the Father in creation, the Son in redemption, and the Holy Spirit in the church, but all one person, not three.
The early fathers held that the Father was the one God, who had a Son, Jesus Christ, who was literally the Word/Wisdom/Reason of God, born before time began from the bosom of the Father. The one God was the Father, who had a Son, the one Lord, Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 8:6). There was one divinity, the source of which was in the Father but included the Son because the Son is the Father’s Word/Wisdom/Reason. The Son proceeded from the Father, just as the Spirit proceeds from the Father.
This was the view of the early churches, explained rather thoroughly from Justin Martyr in AD 150 on and by many early fathers. It is this view that was confirmed at Nicea. It is this view that leaves no difficult verses to explain in Scripture, and which can implicitly be found in the writers before Justin.
- Try http://www.christian-history.org/trinity-quotes.html for a lot of early quotes on the subject.
- I also have a set of pages explaining the Trinity from the early Christian viewpoint.
- This is the synopsis I am responding to in this post: AD 381: Heretics, Pagans, and the Christian State.