The Trinity Doctrine: Biblical Truth or Hellenic Philosophy?
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Political Unity over Scriptural Accuracy
For three centuries after the death of the last Apostle, Christianity was a banned and persecuted religion within the Roman Empire. This changed during the reigns of Constantine and Licinius under the Edict of Milan. The edict read:
“When we, Constantine and Licinius, Emperors, met at Milan in conference concerning the welfare and security of the realm, we decided that of the things that are of profit to all mankind, the worship of God ought rightly to be our first and chiefest care . . . 13”
Some claim that this was done as a concession to Constantine who they claim was a Christian but not baptised. This is false, Constantine was not a Christian and had no care to be one, in fact he was never baptised until he lay on his death bed, and of all people, by Eusebius who was transferred to Constantinople in 339 A.D. and was an ardent Arian with much influence with the Imperial Family. Suffice to say that the proof that Constantine was not a Christian in his heart or otherwise and held his Pagan allegiance still very much in tact, comes to the fore not long after, when Licinius “started a pagan reaction, which Constantine repulsed by defeating his rival in 324. After this, while his proclamations were even more favoured to the Christians, he officially instituted “state recognition of Sunday as a ‘festal day on which to fulfil petitions of special urgency.’14"
Sunday was already the “festal day’ but of the Sun for Sun worshippers. Constantine was not interested in the Theological and Scriptural debate, he was more interested in securing his Empire and fixing this dispute was the best way to do that, for him, he could not see the difference or why there was such a major contention regarding the debate, political unity is all he wanted. He tried to solve the ongoing dispute between the 2 parties by sending identical conciliatory letters to both Arius and Athanasius. This letter contained a statement that showed that as in Greek Theological debates, differences were actually inconsequential; in doing this Constantine was saying that doctrine was not critical. This however was incorrect, as the theological impact of the two views was enormous, as Athanasius contended that “the Father and Son were of the same substance, co-eternal and co-equal” while Arius contended that “the Father and Son were distinct with the Son being neither co-eternal nor co-equal with His Father” which had led to many violent and bloody conflicts.
The Council of the Orient in Antioch saw the introduction of a new Church practice of issuing a creedal statement and saw the Hebraic view of God and the Son condemned and the introduction of a creed similar to the Alexandrian Creed, which saw 3 Bishops excommunicated until the Council of Nicaea for refusing to agree with the teaching.
At this time, the Emperor Constantine stepped in, hoping to stop the fighting and specifically to discuss and come to an agreement on the topic, he called for a general council of the Church at Nicaea in Bithynia. The idea that a political figure such as the Emperor would call this type of theological council for any other reason but political is inescapable, however not strange considering the nature and timeframe within the Hellenistic thought as he “was given by God supreme power in things material and spiritual. 15”
In 325 the Council took place and with the Emperor watching on. Athanasius put forth his belief that Christ had to be coequal, coeternal and consubstantial with the Father because he had to have existed from all eternity with the Father and be of the same essence (homoousios) while being a distinct personality, because
“He” believed that if Christ was less than he had stated, then he could not be the Saviour of men16. What is interesting in this is that one mans “personal” philosophical belief about whether Christ’s substance made a difference to our salvation, is what decided whether he could or could not be the saviour when scripture clearly indicates he was, irrespective of what the philosophical view of his substance was.
Constantine was presiding over this council and greatly influencing the results. After much debate about how to word the Creed and in an endeavour to ensure that all were covered and happy with it, attempts were made to construct a creed using only scriptural terms, but they proved insufficient to exclude the Arian position and eventually a Syro-Palestinian creed used as the basis. When the creed was finished, eighteen Bishops were still vehemently opposed to it and refused to sign it, at this time Constantine himself intervened and threatened exile of anybody who refused to sign, only two Libyan Bishops and Arius still refused to accept the creed and where exiled by Constatine.
13. Fr. John a. Hardon S.J, "Historical Christology - Chapter V - Arianism and the Council of Nicea," in Institute on Religious Life (Chicago, Illinois: Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association, 2004). p. 5↩
15. Leo D. Davis SJ, The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (325-787): Their History and Theology (Theology and Life Series 21) (Michael Glazier, 1988). p. 56. ↩
16. Cairns, Christianity through the Centuries. pp. 142 - 143 ↩
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