How The Trinity Becomes Orthodoxy

๐‡๐จ๐ฐ ๐“๐ก๐ž ๐“๐ซ๐ข๐ง๐ข๐ญ๐ฒ ๐๐ž๐œ๐จ๐ฆ๐ž๐ฌ ๐Ž๐ซ๐ญ๐ก๐จ๐๐จ๐ฑ๐ฒ

Mohamad Mostafa Nassar


The Christians were a persecuted minority in the roman empire who faced imprisonment and execution until Constantine came to power. He supported the Church financially, granted privileges, promoted Christians to high-ranking offices, and returned previously confiscated property to the churches. The defining moment of Constantineโ€™s reign came with the Arian controversy.

Athanasius was a Trinitarian who promoted the idea that Jesus was equal to God, whereas Arius promoted the idea that Jesus was in fact a creation of God. Emperor Constantine, seeking to unify the Church, convened the Council of Nicea in 325 CE. Bishops from all over the empire were summoned to the council where their differences would be debated with the aim of reaching an agreement. His motive was not doctrinal purity but to assure the political stability of his empire.

The Council of Nicea had three points of view represented at the meeting: the strict Arians, the semi-Arians, and the strict Trinitarians. The strict Arians believed that Jesus is inferior to God and rejected the notion that Jesus is of the same substance as God.

The strict Trinitarians opposed Arianism because it questioned the deity of Jesus. The vast majority in attendance, however, took a middle position. They rejected the Trinitarian doctrine that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are of the same substance.

The council proceedings caused the mood of the undecided majority to move towards an anti-Arian view with an attempt to condemn Arianism. Since it was difficult to do this on scriptural terms alone, the bishops decided to formulate a creed that specifically excluded Arianism from the scope of Christian belief. Key to it was a concept found nowhere in the Bible: homo-cousins (from the Greek โ€˜homosโ€™, meaning โ€œsameโ€, and โ€˜ousiaโ€™, meaning โ€œessenceโ€).

Thus Jesus being of the same substance as God was inserted into the official creedal statement of the Church. This contention was not about passages from the Bible, but rather a philosophy. The Church had to come up with terms of โ€œphilosophicalโ€ (pagan/Greek) origin such as โ€œsubstanceโ€ or โ€œhypostasisโ€ in order to articulate the dogma of the Trinity.

The majority of the bishops on the council ultimately agreed upon a creed, known thereafter as the โ€œNicene Creedโ€: When it was finished, eighteen bishops still opposed it. They were threatened with exile if they didnโ€™t sign. Two Libyan bishops and Arius still refused to accept the creed. All three were exiled.

The Council of Nicea, however, did not end the controversy, as many bishops of the Eastern provinces disputed the concept of homo-cousins, the central term of the Nicene Creed. Numerous meetings and no fewer than fourteen further creedal formulas took place between 340 CE and 360 CE.

After the death of Constantine, his sons the emperor in the West, Constans, sided with Nicea, while the emperor in the East, Constantius, was anti-Nicea. Whether Arianism or the Nicene Creed had the upper hand at any particular time depended upon which one had the favor of the respective emperor.

With the death of Constans in 350 CE, his anti-Nicea brother Constantius became the sole ruler of the Empire. In 359 CE, he summoned two councils. These councils were attended by more bishops than at Nicea and were thus more representative of the entire Church. An anti-Nicean, pro-Arian creed was adopted, and thus Arianism gained the upper hand in the Roman Empire.

The seeming triumph of Arianism was short-lived. In 381 CE, the Council of Constantinople was summoned by Emperor Theodosius I, whose aim was to re-establish the doctrine that had been set forth in the Nicene Creed.

They did this by writing a new creed to remove some of the language of the Nicene Creed that had proven controversial and problematic. This council โ€œsealed the final adoption of the faith of Nicea by the entire Churchโ€. So, the Nicene Creed was ultimately victorious over Arianism.

While the Council of Constantinople reaffirmed the tenets of the faith which were established in Nicea, one specific area whERE

the doctrine of the Trinity had developed was related to the Holy Spirit. The council attributed a number of things to the Holy Spirit, such as a divine title, โ€˜Lordโ€™, and supreme worship equal to that rendered to the Father and the Son.

Thus, the Holy Spirit was voted as the third Person of the Trinity. It should be pointed out that the disciples of Jesus had all been dead for hundreds of years before this position was agreed upon. The Catholic Church states: โ€œThe apostolic faith concerning the Spirit was announced by the second ecumenical council at Constantinople (381 CE).โ€

At the close of the Council of Constantinople, Emperor Theodosius issued an imperial decree declaring that the churches should be restored to those bishops who confessed the equal divinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: โ€ฆlet us believe in the one deity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in equal majesty and in a holy Trinity.

We authorize the followers of this law to assume the title Catholic Christians; but as for the others, since in our judgment they are foolish madmen, we decree that they shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretics, and shall not presume to give their conventicles the name of churches. They will suffer in the first place the chastisement of divine condemnation and the second the punishment of our authority, in accordance with the will of heaven shall decide to inflictโ€ฆ

After over 55 years of battle, the Nicene Creed permanently gained the upper hand and Trinitarianism became the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church.

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