A reader asks if I have more sources that indicate
the earliest Christians believed in the Trinity as three separate beings.
Also, he asks me to look over something he wrote along these lines using
the Bible as his source. After reading his material, I point out that mainstream
Christians also believe that the Trinity consists of three separate "persons",
so the real question is, "How separate are they?" I try to clarify
all this below.
Hi ____! I have several early Christian sources other than Justin Martyr,
but I thought the following quote from Linwood Urban's _A Short History
of Christian Thought_ would be more useful to you as a good summary:
"In Pre-Nicene Trinities, the Father is the Godhead. He is eternal,
immutable, unbegotten, the ultimate source of everything. God the Son,
who is begotten of the Father, is God in relationship to the world. He
is thus creator and is also the redeemer and sanctifier. God the Spirit
is God in the hearts and minds of human beings, the inspirer and illuminator.
Thus, God the Father is God in all of his attributes. Everything that can
be said of God can be said of him. To use a mathematical analogy, the Son's
attributes are a subset of the Father's. Moreover, since he is God in relationship
with the world, he in turn includes as a subset the attributes of the Spirit.
It is readily apparent why this model of the Trinity is often called hierarchical.
The members of it are not coequal, in that more is attributed to the Father
than to the Son, and more to the Son than to the Spirit." [Linwood
Urban, _A Short History of Christian Thought_, (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1995,) p. 54.]
I thought you were quite thorough with the Biblical references in your
treatise on the Godhead, but you also committed an error which is common
for Mormons when you were contrasting our beliefs with those of mainstream
Christianity. That is, you seemed to be saying they believe the Trinity
consists of one person who manifests Himself in three different modes.
This is, indeed, what many Christians believe, but they aren't supposed
to! It is actually a heresy called "Modalism", which was one
of the belief systems condemned at the Nicene Council. According to the
Nicene Creed, the Trinity consists of three separate persons, who are one
God because they consist of a single, indivisible, "Divine Substance."
That sounds weird to moderns like us, but it all makes sense in the context
of Greek philosophy. I tried to explain some of that in my short article,
but you may still not understand how three SEPARATE persons can be "of
one substance." Don't worry, because nobody is supposed to understand
it - it is a mystery too great for mortals to comprehend.
We also believe in three divine persons who can be called "one
God," so how are we different than mainstream Christians in this respect?
First, we believe the "oneness" consists of oneness of will and
love. I quoted Justin Martyr and Origen in my article to bring this point
home from an early Christian perspective. Second, we believe the Father
is greater than the Son, and the Son greater than the Spirit, both in authority
and glory. In the Christological Settlements of the fourth through sixth
centuries, it was decided that if the Trinity is "one substance",
then there can't be any hierarchy within the Godhead. They dealt with the
many passages in the New Testament which seemed to indicate the Father
was greater than the Son by saying that Jesus actually had "two natures,"
one human and one divine. And this doesn't just mean that Jesus was both
God and man, but that He actually had a human soul in addition to the "indwelling
Word". (See J.N.D. Kelly's _Early Christian Doctrines_ for a good
discussion.) However, as Linwood Urban noted above, the pre-Nicene Christians
always believed in a distinct hierarchy within the Godhead. Clearly the
modern mainstream Christian doctrine is inconsistent with the earliest