THE CHRISTIAN FAITH: AN INTRODUCTION TO DOGMATIC THEOLOGY - By CLAUDE BEAUFORT MOSS, D.D.LONDON - S.P.C.K 1965 Holy Trinity Church  Marylbone Road London NW 1 - Printed in Great Britain by Richard Clay (The Chaucer Press) Ltd  Bungay Suffolk - First published in 1943 - Prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2004.




HOME | contents | development  - necessity | rival theories | technical terms employed | why they are needed

I. Necessity of Development

As soon as the Christian Gospel was preached outside the Jewish nation from which it sprang,
its preachers had to defend it against rival beliefs. 
In the Roman Empire religious belief was almost completely free,
and every kind of religion and philosophy flourished. 
There were believers in one God, in many gods, in an impersonal god, and in no god at all.

1. The New Testament was mainly the Work of Hebrews, not Greeks

The earliest Christians were Jews and thought in Hebrew or Aramaic even when they wrote in Greek.
[Aramaic or Syriac had by the time of our Lord taken the place of Hebrew as the spoken language of the Jews. 
It continued to be the common language of Syria till the rise of Islam.]
They took for granted the revelation of God to the Hebrew prophets. 
The Christian Church was the true heir of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

2. The Christian Gospel had to be made Intelligible to Greek Philosophers

But as soon as they began to preach to the Gentiles,
the more educated of whom had been trained not in Hebrew law and prophecy but in Greek philosophy,
they had to give their message in a Greek form and to think out its relation to the teaching of the Greek philosophers. 
This took some centuries to work out. 
Greek was then the language understood by all educated men (Acts 21.37). 
For this reason the New Testament was written in Greek. 
But for men trained to think systematically, the New Testament was not enough. 
Christians were continually being confronted with such objections as these:

"You say that there is only one God, and many philosophers agree with you. 
But you also say that this God, who made heaven and earth,
is Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew who was crucified in the reign of Tiberius. 
You say that the Father loves the Son, and you worship both,
and yet you say that there is only one God."

3. The True Definition of Christian Doctrine was Worked out by the Method of Trial and Error

Many theories were put forward by Christian thinkers to explain the language of the New Testament. 
Theory after theory was rejected because it did not do justice to one or another side of the truth revealed in the New Testament.

4. The Work of the Councils was to Reject One-sided Theories

It was the business of the Councils of the Church,
both local and general,
to bear witness to the original faith as recorded in the New Testament,
and to reject every theory that was inconsistent with it. 
The purpose of their definitions was not to explain the mystery but to guard it,
to teach us that this and that theory are false because one-sided. 
These theories are called HERESIES.

II. Rival Theories

The New Testament assumes that there is only one God,
and yet teaches that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are equally Divine. 
The one-sided theories formed to explain this may be divided into two classes:
those which make too little of the distinction between the Persons,
and those which make too much of it.

1. Denial of Distinction between the Persons

The first class of theories treats the difference between the Persons as unreal
and emphasizes the Unity of God by denying any real distinctions with the Godhead.

(a)  Modalistic monarchianism

is the belief that God exists in two or three modes
As Father, He created;
as Son, He died on the Cross;
as Holy Spirit, He sanctifies. 
Praxeas and No?us taught it in the second century. 
It was of these men that Tertullian wrote: "They crucify the Father and put the Spirit to flight". 
Hence their opponents called them Patripassians, believers that the Father suffered. 
(Both the Greek and Latin Fathers held that God is incapable of suffering.) 
Praxeas was condemned at Carthage, No? us at Smyrna.

(b) Sabellianism

was a later development of this belief. 
Sabellius was a priest who taught at Rome in the third century that the Eternal Being
(whom he apparently regarded as impersonal) existed in three forms:
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. 
It had expanded to create the universe, and again to redeem mankind;
but at the end of the ages it would contract again,
and the distinction between its modes of being would no longer exist.

The answer to all theories of this class is that the New Testament clearly represents the Father and the Son as loving one another. 
Two aspects or modes of one person cannot feel love for one another. 
(The King of England was also Emperor of India,
but we cannot say that the Emperor of India loved the King of England unless we mean that he loved himself.) 
And what is true of the Father and the Son is true also of the Holy Ghost. 
"The Comforter, even the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My Name" (St. John 14.26)
shows clearly that They are not mere aspects of one Person.

Sabellianism was condemned at Rome, but it remained a danger for some generations. 
Emmanuel Swedenborg, the Swedish mystic, founder of the so-called New Church in the eighteenth century, revived it in another form. 
He taught that Jesus Christ is God and that He is Father, Son, and Holy Ghost;
that there is no Trinity but only a Unity.

2. Theories which Emphasize the Distinction between the Persons

(a)  Tritheism

The other class of theories consists of those that emphasize the distinction between the Father and the other Persons. 
The most extreme one is Tritheism the belief in three separate Gods. 
But the unity of God is so clearly taught in the Bible (the authority to which all appealed) that hardly anyone ventured to deny it. 
St. Gregory of Nyssa in the fourth century had to defend himself against a charge of tritheism;
but real tritheism was taught by John Philoponos, a Monophysite (see Chapter 15) leader of the sixth century,
and was answered by the writer known as the pseudo-Cyril who developed the doctrine, already referred to,
of the Perichoresis, that each Person exists eternally in the other Two.

(b) Gnosticism

We need not spend much time on the doctrine of the Gnostics that the supreme God is unknowable and impersonal
and that Christ is an emanation from it
because Gnosticism was probably an entirely different religion,
which when it came into contact with Christianity,
adopted Christian language
(just as Theosophy, which is a form of Hinduism and has nothing in common with Christianity, does today).
[Dr. F. C. Burkitt rejected this view of Gnosticism and held that it was Christian by origin.
The usual view seems more probable.]
Marcion attempted a kind of compromise between Christianity and Gnosticism. 
He rejected the whole of the Old Testament and most of the New Testament except the writings of St. Luke,
and the sect that he founded lasted until the seventh century. 
A similar theory of the unknowable Supreme and the finite God with whom we are in contact
was put forward by J. S. Mill and, strange to say, by Mr. H. G. Wells in his God the Invisible King.

(c) Adoptionism or Dynamic Monarchianism

In the third century Adoptionism or Dynamic Monarchianism was brought forward by Paul of Samosata, Bishop of Antioch. 
He taught that Jesus Christ was a man who, for His great virtue and merit,
received the (impersonal) Word of God and was adopted into the Godhead. 
Such an idea was natural to converts from paganism accustomed to worship deified men,
but could not be held by anyone who had accepted fully the Hebrew doctrine of God.
Paul of Samosata was condemned by the bishops of his province,
but they could not expel him because of the favor shown him by Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra. 
It was only when Zenobia had been conquered by the Emperor Aurelian
that the orthodox of Syria were able to recover the property of the bishopric of Antioch from Paul and his followers.

(d) Psilanthropism, Socinianism, and Unitarianism

Psilanthropism (from ψιλός, psilos, bare, and ἄνθρωπος, anthropos, a man)
was the theory that Jesus Christ was only a man, not God in any sense.  
It was not a common heresy in ancient times.  
It was held by some Jews who accepted Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah but not as God and who were called Ebionites.
Psilanthropism was revived in the sixteenth century by the Italian reformer Faustus Socinus (Sozzino) ,
who, though he rejected the Godhead of Christ, accepted the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection. 
His sect had considerable success in Eastern Hungary (then under Turkish control)
where it still exists organized with episcopal government.
In English-speaking countries Socinianism is now called Unitarianism and is Presbyterian in government and history.  
The old English Presbyterian denomination,
which in the seventeenth century nearly made itself the established religion,
became Unitarian in the eighteenth century.  
(This is the reason why the "Old Chapel" in English towns is so often Unitarian. 
The present English Presbyterian Church was set up later under Scottish influence.)  
Modern Unitarians do not deny dogmatically the Godhead of Jesus Christ,
but rather repudiate the dogmas of any kind declaring that they are "free Christians". 
We cannot, however, admit that those who will not declare that they believe that Jesus Christ is God have any right to the name of Christian.

(e)  Arianism

The most important of all these theories was that of Arius,
a priest who had been trained at Antioch under men who had been influenced by Paul of Samosata,
and who became a parish priest at Alexandria.  
Arius taught that the Word was a created being through whom the Father had made everything else.  
He was much more than man, greater even than the angels, but still a created being.  
He might be called God and given divine worship, but "there was when he was not". 
The First General Council of Nicea condemned it in 325.

(f)  Macedonianism

Macedonianism was the denial of the Godhead of the Holy Ghost and was the theory of Macedonius, Bishop of Constantinople.  
The Macedonians were Arians who had got so far on their way back to orthodoxy that they accepted the Godhead of the Son,
but they still regarded the Holy Ghost as a created being.
St. Basil refuted Macedonianism.
And the Second General Council, the first of Constantinople, condemned it in 381.

III. Technical Terms Employed in Guarding the Teaching of the Church

In the development of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity
in opposition to these one-sided theories it was necessary to make technical terms. 
The language of the New Testament,
which was sufficient for the preaching of the Gospel to the poor,
was not sufficient for answering the subtle and ingenious theories put forward by the heretics.

1.    Trinity

The first of these words is TRINITY (Greek Τρις, Trias),
which is not found in Scripture but appears first in Theophilus (second century). 
Tertullian and Origen used it freely (c. 200). 
 At first it implied only the threefoldness of the Godhead
but later came to include the unity as well.

2.    Essence or Substance

The word οσια (ousia), in Latin substantia, later essentia, means that by which a thing is itself. 
Thus God has one ousia, one ESSENCE or SUBSTANCE. 
To believe that He has more would be to believe in more than one God. 
The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are of one substance or essence (ὁμοοσια). 
We declare in the Creed that Jesus Christ is of one substance with the Father.

3.    Hypostasis (Person)

Hypostasis (ὑπστασις),
which originally seems to have been used in the same way as οσια,
came to be used for the three distinctions within the Godhead,
the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
through the influence of the Cappadocian Fathers in the latter part of the fourth century. 
Substantia, the Latin word corresponding to hypostasis, was used as the translation of οσια;
so that while the Latins spoke of ONE SUBSTANCE (una substantia),
the Greeks spoke of three hypostases. 
The difficulty was settled by a conference at Alexandria in 362, arranged by St. Athanasius. 
Persona, which originally meant a mask, came to be used as the Latin translation of hypostasis. 
This is why we use the word Person: THREE PERSONS IN ONE GOD
The word PERSON is here used in a technical sense; it does not mean "individual".

4.    Physis (Nature)

The word φσις (physis), translated NATURE,
is applied to the Godhead and the Manhood of Jesus Christ
who has two natures in one person.

5.    Genesis (Generation)

The word GENERATIONννησις, gennesis) is applied to the relation of the Son to the Father. (St. John 1.14.)

6.    Ecporeusis (Procession)

The word PROCESSION (ἐκπρευσις, ecporeusis), or spiration,
refers to the relation between the Holy Ghost and the Father. (St. John 15.26.)

The Son is of the Father alone;
not made, nor created, but begotten. 
The Holy Ghost is of the Father and the Son;
not made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. 
(Athanasian Creed.) 

The Son is eternally begotten by the Father,
the Holy Ghost eternally proceeds from the Father.
Different words are used by the Church because different words are used by St. John. 
(The question of the Double Procession;
that is, of the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Son will be discussed later.)

IV. Why Technical Terms are Needed

It may be asked what need there is for all these technical terms. 
If the heresies were contrary to Scripture, why could they not be answered in the language of Scripture? 
The answer is that theology, like every other science, requires technical terms if its meaning is to be exactly expressed. 
The New Testament says, "The Word was God". 
Sabellius said, "Yes, the aspect in which God expressed Himself as Redeemer". 
Arius said, "Yes, God in a sense (Θες), but not God in the full sense (ὁ Θες)". 
Both these answers misrepresented the real teaching of the New Testament. 
Bitter experience taught the Church that it was necessary to insist that Jesus Christ is of one substance with the Father. 
No other word would do.
Belief about God is of supreme importance, and it must be exactly right.

Neither Sabellianism nor Arianism could have provided a sufficient basis for Christian civilization.

The belief that God is love, which is the foundation of Christian morals, is inseparably bound up with the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. 
The impersonal or one-Person God of Sabellius is a philosophical conception, not the living God of the Scriptures.  
His eternal life would be that of a solitary, not of a social or a loving being.  
The created Christ of Arius could not have displayed to us the love of God.  
The belief that God sent one of His creatures is a very different thing from the belief of the Church that He came Himself.