Was Tertullian the First Trinititarian?

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Was Tertullian the First Trinititarian?

Postby Paidion » Wed Jun 14, 2017 11:07 am

Tertullian (A.D.145-220) wrote a dissertation against the modalist Praxeas who believed that God was a divine Individual who manifested Himself sometimes as the Father, sometimes as the Son, and sometimes as the Holy Spirit; yet He is just one Individual and not three. Tertullian proposed that, though there is just one God, there are three divine Individuals who comprise that one God. As far as I know, Tertullian was the first person to employ the word "Trinity." What follows are Chapters 2, 3, and 4, of Tertullian's writing against Praxeas. It is quoted from the Ante-Nicene Fathers series (the early Christian writers who wrote prior to the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325), chapters 2-4:

Chapter 2. The Catholic Doctrine of the Trinity and Unity, Sometimes Called the Divine Economy, or Dispensation of the Personal Relations of the Godhead

In the course of time, then, the Father forsooth was born, and the Father suffered, God Himself, the Lord Almighty, whom in their preaching they declare to be Jesus Christ. We, however, as we indeed always have done (and more especially since we have been better instructed by the Paraclete, who leads men indeed into all truth), believe that there is one only God, but under the following dispensation, or οἰκονομία, as it is called, that this one only God has also a Son, His Word, who proceeded from Himself, by whom all things were made, and without whom nothing was made. Him we believe to have been sent by the Father into the Virgin, and to have been born of her— being both Man and God, the Son of Man and the Son of God, and to have been called by the name of Jesus Christ; we believe Him to have suffered, died, and been buried, according to the Scriptures, and, after He had been raised again by the Father and taken back to heaven, to be sitting at the right hand of the Father, and that He will come to judge the quick and the dead; who sent also from heaven from the Father, according to His own promise, the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete, the sanctifier of the faith of those who believe in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Ghost. That this rule of faith has come down to us from the beginning of the gospel, even before any of the older heretics, much more before Praxeas, a pretender of yesterday, will be apparent both from the lateness of date which marks all heresies, and also from the absolutely novel character of our new-fangled Praxeas. In this principle also we must henceforth find a presumption of equal force against all heresies whatsoever— that whatever is first is true, whereas that is spurious which is later in date. But keeping this prescriptive rule inviolate, still some opportunity must be given for reviewing (the statements of heretics), with a view to the instruction and protection of various persons; were it only that it may not seem that each perversion of the truth is condemned without examination, and simply prejudged; especially in the case of this heresy, which supposes itself to possess the pure truth, in thinking that one cannot believe in One Only God in any other way than by saying that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are the very selfsame Person. As if in this way also one were not All, in that All are of One, by unity (that is) of substance; while the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded, which distributes the Unity into a Trinity, placing in their order the three Persons— the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: three, however, not in condition, but in degree; not in substance, but in form; not in power, but in aspect; yet of one substance, and of one condition, and of one power, inasmuch as He is one God, from whom these degrees and forms and aspects are reckoned, under the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. How they are susceptible of number without division, will be shown as our treatise proceeds.

Chapter 3. Sundry Popular Fears and Prejudices. The Doctrine of the Trinity in Unity Rescued from These Misapprehensions

The simple, indeed, (I will not call them unwise and unlearned,) who always constitute the majority of believers, are startled at the dispensation (of the Three in One), on the ground that their very rule of faith withdraws them from the world's plurality of gods to the one only true God; not understanding that, although He is the one only God, He must yet be believed in with His own οἰκονομία . The numerical order and distribution of the Trinity they assume to be a division of the Unity; whereas the Unity which derives the Trinity out of its own self is so far from being destroyed, that it is actually supported by it. They are constantly throwing out against us that we are preachers of two gods and three gods, while they take to themselves pre-eminently the credit of being worshippers of the One God; just as if the Unity itself with irrational deductions did not produce heresy, and the Trinity rationally considered constitute the truth. We, say they, maintain the Monarchy (or, sole government of God). And so, as far as the sound goes, do even Latins (and ignorant ones too) pronounce the word in such a way that you would suppose their understanding of the μοναρχία ( or Monarchy) was as complete as their pronunciation of the term. Well, then Latins take pains to pronounce the μοναρχία (or Monarchy), while Greeks actually refuse to understand the οἰκονομία, or Dispensation (of the Three in One). As for myself, however, if I have gleaned any knowledge of either language, I am sure that μοναρχία (or Monarchy) has no other meaning than single and individual rule; but for all that, this monarchy does not, because it is the government of one, preclude him whose government it is, either from having a son, or from having made himself actually a son to himself, or from ministering his own monarchy by whatever agents he will. Nay more, I contend that no dominion so belongs to one only, as his own, or is in such a sense singular, or is in such a sense a monarchy, as not also to be administered through other persons most closely connected with it, and whom it has itself provided as officials to itself. If, moreover, there be a son belonging to him whose monarchy it is, it does not immediately become divided and cease to be a monarchy, if the son also be taken as a sharer in it; but it is as to its origin equally his, by whom it is communicated to the son; and being his, it is quite as much a monarchy (or sole empire), since it is held together by two who are so inseparable. Therefore, inasmuch as the Divine Monarchy also is administered by so many legions and hosts of angels, according as it is written, "Thousand thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him;" Daniel 7:10 and since it has not from this circumstance ceased to be the rule of one (so as no longer to be a monarchy), because it is administered by so many thousands of powers; how comes it to pass that God should be thought to suffer division and severance in the Son and in the Holy Ghost, who have the second and the third places assigned to them, and who are so closely joined with the Father in His substance, when He suffers no such (division and severance) in the multitude of so many angels? Do you really suppose that Those, who are naturally members of the Father's own substance, pledges of His love, instruments of His might, nay, His power itself and the entire system of His monarchy, are the overthrow and destruction thereof? You are not right in so thinking. I prefer your exercising yourself on the meaning of the thing rather than on the sound of the word. Now you must understand the overthrow of a monarchy to be this, when another dominion, which has a framework and a state peculiar to itself (and is therefore a rival), is brought in over and above it: when, e.g., some other god is introduced in opposition to the Creator, as in the opinions of Marcion; or when many gods are introduced, according to your Valentinuses and your Prodicuses. Then it amounts to an overthrow of the Monarchy, since it involves the destruction of the Creator.

Chapter 4. The Unity of the Godhead and the Supremacy and Sole Government of the Divine Being. The Monarchy Not at All Impaired by the Catholic Doctrine

But as for me, who derive the Son from no other source but from the substance of the Father, and (represent Him) as doing nothing without the Father's will, and as having received all power from the Father, how can I be possibly destroying the Monarchy from the faith, when I preserve it in the Son just as it was committed to Him by the Father? The same remark (I wish also to be formally) made by me with respect to the third degree in the Godhead, because I believe the Spirit to proceed from no other source than from the Father through the Son. Look to it then, that it be not you rather who are destroying the Monarchy, when you overthrow the arrangement and dispensation of it, which has been constituted in just as many names as it has pleased God to employ. But it remains so firm and stable in its own state, notwithstanding the introduction into it of the Trinity, that the Son actually has to restore it entire to the Father; even as the apostle says in his epistle, concerning the very end of all: "When He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; for He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet;" 1 Corinthians 15:24-25 following of course the words of the Psalm: "Sit on my right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool." "When, however, all things shall be subdued to Him, (with the exception of Him who did put all things under Him,) then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all." 1 Corinthians 15:27-28 We thus see that the Son is no obstacle to the Monarchy, although it is now administered by the Son; because with the Son it is still in its own state, and with its own state will be restored to the Father by the Son. No one, therefore, will impair it, on account of admitting the Son (to it), since it is certain that it has been committed to Him by the Father, and by and by has to be again delivered up by Him to the Father. Now, from this one passage of the epistle of the inspired apostle, we have been already able to show that the Father and the Son are two separate Persons, not only by the mention of their separate names as Father and the Son, but also by the fact that He who delivered up the kingdom, and He to whom it is delivered up— and in like manner, He who subjected (all things), and He to whom they were subjected— must necessarily be two different Beings.
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Re: Was Tertullian the First Trinititarian?

Postby JasonPratt » Fri Jun 16, 2017 8:04 am

Tertullian may have been the first to coin the word Trinity (although I know of no evidence of him being subsequently recognized as such by his immediate successors and contemporaries), but the coining of terminology doesn't make him the first person to believe that the one and only God Most High is three distinct Persons.

We don't have any record, as far as I know, of anyone else using the Greek word for 'son-placement' in Paul's epistles either, but that doesn't mean he was the first person to come up with the idea of children only being granted the rights and responsibilities of the family when the head of the family judges them to be sufficiently mature. Aside from lots of testimony elsewhere to this practice, including in texts preliminary to Paul's epistles, his deployment of the concept contextually presumes that his audience already knows the typical facts of what he's talking about.

Tertullian might be the first person to attempt to systematically present the doctrines. But his presentation presumes that these doctrines (with scriptural allusions, and in a creedal form close to the eventual Apostle's Creed) are already known and accepted by "us". Even if you wanted to treat the "have always" "passed down to us from the beginning" as polemic exaggeration, it still presumes established precedent of some kind prior to Tertullian; and his charge against Praxeas, aside from incoherency, is that his notion of the F/S/HS being only modal expressions (as we would say today) is a late novelty.

To be fair the other way, as an example of possible rhetorical overstatement (in terms of how long something has been going on), Tertullian also says that simple people who always constitute the majority of believers are constantly throwing out against us that we are preachers of two and three gods. This, by the same principle of testimony, at least shows evidence that objections to the total doctrinal set and how it is put together, have been going on for as long as teachers have tried to teach the total doctrinal set. How far back does that go? Five years before Tertullian writes this? Five decades? Since the apostles?

In any case, just as Tertullian states that the objections to the doctrinal set significantly precede Tertullian (although he treats Praxeas' modalism per se as a new-fangled absolute novelty), so does Tertullian state that the doctrinal set significantly precedes Tertuillian.
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Re: Was Tertullian the First Trinititarian?

Postby Holy-Fool-P-Zombie » Fri Jun 16, 2017 8:44 am

There are a couple of Wiki articles - on the subject:

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Re: Was Tertullian the First Trinititarian?

Postby Paidion » Fri Jun 16, 2017 4:02 pm

Jason wrote:To be fair the other way, as an example of possible rhetorical overstatement (in terms of how long something has been going on), Tertullian also says that simple people who always constitute the majority of believers are constantly throwing out against us that we are preachers of two and three gods. This, by the same principle of testimony, at least shows evidence that objections to the total doctrinal set and how it is put together, have been going on for as long as teachers have tried to teach the total doctrinal set. How far back does that go? Five years before Tertullian writes this? Five decades? Since the apostles?


Yes, Trinitarianism may have been taught prior to Tertullian. But "since the apostles"? I cannot say. What I can say is that Justin Martyr (A.D. 110-165) did not subscribe to it.

Justin had a discussion with a Jewish man, Trypho (and some of his companions) which lasted several days. Justin was showing from the Hebrew writings that God had begotten His Son before all ages, and compared this begetting to lighting a small fire from a large one. Justin affirmed also that the Son shared the Name “Yahweh” with the Father. He argued that in Genesis 19:24, there were two individuals who were called “Yahweh”, One in heaven (the Father), and One on earth (the Son) who was talking to Abraham. Justin also showed from many Scriptures that the Son of God was born on earth as a human being and that He was the promised Messiah.

Both Justin and Trypho throughout their dialogue had been referring to the Holy Spirit. Clearly Trypho, a Jew, didn't think of the spirit of God being a person apart from God. Justin apparently didn't either. In his Dialogue, he often referred to "the spirit speaking form the person of the Father" and "the spirit speaking from the person of the Son."

It is interesting that at one point, Justin asked Trypho this question:

Do you think that any other one is said to be worthy of worship and called Lord and God in the Scriptures, except the Maker of all, and Messiah, who by so many Scriptures was proved to you to have become man?


Trypho replied,
How can we admit this, when we have instituted so great an inquiry as to whether there is any other than the Father alone?


If Justin had been a Trinitarian, this would have been a perfect opportunity to present the Holy Spirit as the Third Person of the Trinity. But he didn't. Instead, he said:

I must ask you this also, that I may know whether or not you are of a different opinion from that which you admitted some time ago.
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