Hippolytus and the Baptismal Ceremony of the 3rd century Roman Church

Chronicon has posted a digitalization of Hippolytus‘ work, Apostolic Tradition. Here are a few of the highlights:

Hippolytus, the first ‘antipope’ (although he later was taken back into the Church before his death), begins his work with:

We have duly completed what needed to be said about “Gifts”, describing those gifts which God by His own counsel has bestowed on men, in offering to Him­self His image which had gone astray. But now, moved by His love to all His saints, we pass on to our most im­portant theme, “The Tradition”, our teacher. And we address the churches, so that they who have been well trained, may, by our instruction, hold fast that tradition which has continued up to now and, knowing it well, may be strengthened. This is needful, because of that lapse or error which recently occurred through ignor­ance, and because of ignorant men. And Holy Spirit will supply perfect grace to those who believe aright, that they may know how all things should be transmitted and kept by them who rule the church.

The writer is setting forth the proper way for bishops and elders, as well as other minor offices, to be ordained, but he touches on two issues of importance to me. First, we note that Hippolytus no where refers to Christ as God, as Ignatius had done two generations earlier; however, holding to what is later Marcellus’ thought, Hippolytus declares a distinction between the Incarnate Son and the Preincarnate Word.

Then,

Jesus Christ … Who is thy Word, inseparable from thee; through whom thou didst make all things and in whom thou art well pleased. Whom thou didst send from heaven into the womb of the Virgin, and who, dwelling within her, was made flesh, and was manifested as thy Son, being born of Holy Spirit and the Virgin.

Hippolytus, in this work, rarely calls Jesus Christ anything by ‘your Servant Jesus Christ.’

For the baptism, which for Hippolytus has developed into a far reaching ceremony, surely not intended by even the most pretentious of the Apostles,

Then, after these things, let him give him over to the  presbyter who baptizes, and let the candidates stand in the water, naked, a deacon going with them likewise. And when he who is being baptized goes down into the  water, he who baptizes him, putting his hand on him, shall say thus:

Dost thou believe in God, the Father Almighty?

And he who is being baptized shall say:

I believe.

Then holding his hand placed on his head, he shall baptize him once. And then he shall say:

Dost thou believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and was dead and buried, and rose again the third day, alive from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and sat at the right hand of the Father, and will come to judge the quick and the dead?

We see the early creed, the early rule of faith stated by Hippolytus, but we also see how later doctrine was developed from this creed. For the first one hundred years, baptism was done in the name of Christ, but sometime before Justin, as the baptism formula changed, it became more developed, as we see here – before it would be contracted in later centuries to what we have in Matthew 28.19.

And when he says:

I believe,

he is baptized again. And again he shall say:

Dost thou believe in Holy Ghost, and the holy church, and the resurrection of the flesh?

He who is being baptized shall say accordingly:

I believe,

and so he is baptized a third time.

Note that nothing in Scripture allows for this baptismal formula (note as well, that baptism was considered a sacrament for the remission of sins (Acts 2.38; Romans 6.1-7))

And afterward, when he has come up , he is anointed by the presbyter with the oil of thanksgiving, the presbyter saying:

The next step connects both baptismal traditions (Matthew 28.19 and the book of Acts)

I anoint thee with holy oil in the name of Jesus Christ. And so each one, after drying himself, is immediately 20 clothed, and then is brought into the church.

Then the bishop, laying his hand upon them, shall pray, saying:

O LORD GOD, who hast made them worthy to obtain remission of sins through the laver of re­generation of Holy Spirit, send into them thy grace, that they may serve thee according to thy will; for thine is the glory, to the Father and the Son, with Holy Spirit in the holy church, both now and world without end. Amen.

As with the final baptism (of the three), the holy Spirit is here connected with the holy Church, perhaps in reference to

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22 NKJV)

Posted on

Reviewing Early Christian Doctrines – 3rd Century Trinitarianism (pt1)

*Please start here, read this, and then help with the discussion. This issue is a cornerstone issue and deserves a great deal of time.

As the Church moved into the Third Century, it was immediately besieged by heresies of various strips. Having dealt with the Gnosticism and other heresies (although even now, these ancient error filled doctrines erupt), which focused on the unity of God, the philosophers in the ranks begin to explore doctrine while pushing the Body of Christ into news areas and new thoughts. In the closing years of the previous century, we had seen the notion of an economic Deity settle into a language that focused on the οικονομία (economy) which is a biblical word; however, the thoughts of the philosophers moved beyond biblical words, concepts, and thoughts.

Dr. Kelly (pg 109) says that the success of the explanation of the Economy caused a ‘powerful reaction’ in circles that shied away from the Logos doctrine, citing that it ‘imperiled the divine unity.’ This led to two courses of thought that are often confused in the minds of Trinitarians. In discussing this, it is wise to understand that the modern ‘Church world’ sees both of these in the same light, as heretical factions; however, oneness believers see the latter as the true and authentic faith of the Church. In light of a Trinitarian’s – ancient and modern – what is known as monarchism close to ‘oneness’ doctrine but yet fails in several points, some which will be discussed at a later point.

Tertullian, the dread of every ‘oneness’ believer, was a theologian from the north African city of Carthage who along with the Roman Hippolytus begin to issue statements which would later mature at Nicaea. Dr. Kelly makes the point that these two figures of the past has no standing as official spokesmen for the Church. In ‘defending’ the Christian faith, both became schismatics – Tertullian with his Montanism, and Hippolytus with his schism against the Roman Bishop. The theology of these two no less great thinkers begin to involve, even more so than Clement and Origen, a brand of philosophy that seemed to ground itself in Christianity, but bore marks of outside influences. Tertullian wrote ‘before all things God was alone, being His own universe, location, everything. He was alone, however, in the sense that there was nothing external to Himself. But even then He was not really along, for He had with Him that Reason which He possessed within Himself, that is to say, His own Reason.’ (pg 111, citing Avd. Prax 5). Further, Tertullian constitutes the word as ‘a second in addition to Himself’ (secundum a se). This language is more philosophical than biblical, more Alexandrine than Antioch.

According to Hippolytus, alongside ‘the Father, there was another, a second Person, while the Spirit completed the Triad. (pg112 citing C. Noetus 7.11,14). According to Dr. Kelly, this fails squarely against the economic Deity as held by the Apologists, especially Irenaeus. As Dr. Kelly said (pg107-8), ‘Its second-century traits stand out clearly, particularly is representation of the Triad by the imagery, not of three coequal person…but rather of a single personage, the Father Who is the Godhead Itself, with His mind, or rationality, and His wisdom.’ In the matter of half a century, Christian had gone from recognizing one Person to recognizing three persons. His language, like Justin, has a ‘subordinationist ring’.

Hippolytus was ‘reluctant to designate the Word as the Son’ until the Incarnation while Tertullian ‘followed the Apologists in dating His ‘perfect generation, ‘’ meaning that the Word was generated before Creation. Before that, Tertullian has to admit that God ‘could not strictly be said to have a Son’. It is noteworthy that Dr. Kelly states that during the time of Tertullian and Hippolytus, the ‘Father’ began to take on more of a parental definition in relation to the ‘Son’. Later in the Third Century, Novatian refuses to tie the ‘generation of the Son to creation’ (pg 125) because it was illogical for God to be a Father and not have had a Son. This begins to show that the idea of God changed considerably – from first principle to parent; with that change, God changed from the economic Deity of the Apologists to a for now a firm bi-personal deity of the early Third Century.

Tertullian, our favorite dread, is a large focus on early Third Century thought and is often credited with the first use of the word Trinity (trinitas). He believes that the three – Father, Son, Spirit – are numerically distinct, ‘capable of being counted’. He states, ‘We believe in one only God, yet subject to this dispensation, which is our word for the economy, that the one only God has also a Son, His Word, Who has issued out of Himself…which Son then sent, according to His promise, the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, out of the Father’. Clearly ignoring Paul’s written command of refraining from going beyond what is written, Tertullian adds a pre-Nicene creed to the belief of the Apostles and the Apologists of the One God.

Although Tertullian believes that Stoicism had no place in Christianity, Dr. Kelly (pg 114) points out that his background of ideas was in fact Stoic, as he ‘regarded the divine spirit as a highly rarefied species of matter’. It is because of this that Tertullian can say ‘the Father is the whole substance, while the Son is a derivation from and the portion of the whole’ while not believing that the ‘potion’ (portio) is not a literal severance. According to Dr. Kelly, Tertullian ‘dismisses the idea that the Person can be three in ‘status, substance of power; as regards these the Godhead is indivisibly one, and the threeness applies only to the ‘grade’, or ‘aspect’, or ‘manifestation’ in which the Persons or presented.

Citing an advance on Irenaeus, Dr. Kelly says that both Hippolytus and Tertullian leaped over the Apologists in:

  • Their attempts to make explicit the oneness of the divine power or substance of which the Three were expressions or forms
  • Their recognition of ‘Them’ as Person.

Yet, in their expression of the Godhead switching from ‘it’ or ‘him’ to ‘them’, Dr. Kelly says that for these two thinkers, the Godhead is indivisible and ‘are one identical being.’ It is during this time that the Latin ‘persona,’ or ‘mask,’ becomes a word for theological use.

Dynamic Monarchianism is not worthy spending much time on it, since ‘oneness’ believers and Trinitarians both see it as a heresy, but is worth nothing that Dr. Kelly sees the classification of this heresy as Monarchianism as an interpretation of ‘adoptionism and Modalism as misguided attempts to salvage the Bible dogma that God is one.’ Although this heresy persisted for sometime and erupted on the modern scene in some small way as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, it serves very little in a discussion of the Trinity and Oneness doctrine.

What is usually called ‘oneness,’ Modalism,’ or ‘Modalistic Monarchianism, is held by a large number of people who profess Christianity. It is what is usually thought of when people say ‘Pentecostal.’ Seeing a supposed revival in the early part of the 20th century, ‘oneness’ doctrine is pointed at by many Trinitarians as an ancient heresy on the level of adoptionism and Gnosticism; ‘Oneness’ believers see themselves as the continuation of the ‘New Testament Church’, of the ‘Apostles’ Doctrine’, or simple in the line of Peter and Paul.

Dr. Kelly (pg119) says that Modalism was formulated in response to the increasing amount of importance that the Logos Doctrine began to have. Further, he states that it was to counter the efforts of ‘theologians to represent the Godhead as having revealed Itself in the economy as tri-personal’. It must be noted, that a oneness believer would have no problem in subscribing to the Economy as described by Dr. Kelly in pointing to the Apologists, but oneness does have a problem in the Deity as being represented as ‘tri-personal’. Dr. Kelly readily reminds us again that the term ‘Father’ did not carry the same wait for the Apologists, and hence the Apostles, as it did for Tertullian and Hippolytus, and it was this added weight that Modalists fought against.

Modalists argue(d) that the Word that emanated from the Father was verbally distinct, verses numerically, being a projection of the Father. Of the promoters of this language, we know very little. Nothing of their actual work survives; only their words and the interpretations of those words survive in the mouth of their opponents. Of Noetus, Sabellius, and Praxeas, we have a history spoiled by the victors of vigorous theological debates. We have Patripassianism, or the belief that the Father suffered, only the mouth of Tertullian and other Trinitarians. In it, Dr. Kelly says that a corollary exists that the Father suffered and ‘underwent Christ’s other human experiences.’ If this is truly Patripassianism, then this too is foreign to a biblical understanding of God.

Noetus is said to have pointed to the Scriptures for his support and to his accusers he would retort ‘What wrong have I done, glorifying one only God, Christ, Who was born, suffered and died?’ He was condemned, his detractors tell us, with the Elders using the Rule of Faith. His disciple, however, escaped and finding himself in Rome he found a pupil in Cleomenes during the bishopric of Zephyrinus. (198-217). It is this Bishop of Rome that Hippolytus would find himself set against which would force schism in Rome. Cleomenes, according to Hippolytus, ‘believed in one identical Godhead Which could be designated indifferently Father or Son; the terms did not stand for real distinctions, but were mere names applicable at different times.’ This seems to align itself with the modern Modalistic creed (Father in Creation, Son in Redemption, Holy Spirit in Regeneration); however it is not biblical and has no real support in history or Tradition.

Dr. Kelly commits an error by accepting Hippolytus’ unconditional comparison of Heraclitus and Modalism, forgetting that it was Justin that used Heraclitus for the basis of his own Logos Doctrine. Only in the works of Hippolytus do we read of Heraclitus and Modalism, so that the comparison is made by an opponent and not by the Modalists.

Praxeas is still a mystery, Dr. Kelly points out, in that he is a ‘shadowy figure’ whose given name may well be a nickname or a pseudonym for Callistus. His doctrine was that the Father and the Son are one identical person, with the Word having no independent subsistence. It was the Father who became His own Son and in the person of the Son, was born, suffered and died. He being invisible became visible; impassible became passible. This doctrine would be acceptable to the modern oneness believer, yet, Praxeas did not stop there. He proceeding, in an almost Dynamic fashion, Praxeas held that the ‘man Jesus was, strictly speaking, the Son, while the Christ, i.e. the divine element was properly the Father’. For Praxeas, which was an improvement on Noetus, the Son suffered while the Father co-suffered. Dr. Kelly rightly points out that this was close to the adoptionism of the heretics that followed Theodotus, but he fails to note that at no time did Praxeas call Jesus an inspired man. (pg 121)

On Sabellius, Modalism took a deeper stand on Scripture. The ‘author’ of the doctrine was attacked by Hippolytus, and many others throughout history, but enjoyed the confidence of Callistus, Zephyrinus’ successor but would later be excommunicated by him. This ‘sophisticated Modalism’ as Dr. Kelly calls it (pg 121) attempted to meet objections. Again, Sabellius is only seen through the lenses of history, and those lenses were created by his detractors. Even Dr. Kelly says ‘Unfortunately we cannot be sure all the details of the position…can be attributed to Sabellius himself.’ Most of the evidence about Sabellius comes from over a century after his lifetime when his theology ‘and that of the much more familiar Marcellus of Ancyra were hopelessly confused.

This Modalist view the Godhead as a monad, using the Sun with the warmth and light that it generates as an analogy. ‘The Father was…the form of essence, and the Son and the Spirit His modes of self-expression.’ He believe that the divine monad experienced ‘dilation’ so that the ‘Father by process of development projecting Himself first as Son and then as Spirit. For Sabellius, the Godhead was ‘’law-giver’ as the Father’ while in redemption ‘It was projected like a ray of sun, and then was withdrawn’; then It ‘operated as Spirit to inspire and bestow grace.’ Here we see a fuller expression of the modern oneness creed.

Both Zephyrinus and Callistus ‘sympathized with the widespread popular reaction against the theories of Hippolytus and Tertullian, which they regarded as leading to ditheism. In standing against the encroachment of the tri-personal view of the Godhead, Zephyrinus said ‘I know of only God, Christ Jesus, and none other Who was born and suffered’. In this statement is summed the correct the Modalistic attitude towards the Godhead. It is these ‘simple and uncultured’ Christians (from the words of Tertullian) that view the new talk (Dr. Kelly’s words) of ‘Persons’ of the Godhead with ‘unconcealed suspicion’. The Bishop, although resenting the ditheism sounding of the new ‘Persons’, still sought to make the distinction between the Father and the Son clear, by adding to the above statement ‘it was not the Father Who died, but the Son’.

Callistus was similar in his doctrine to his predecessor. According to Dr. Kelly, the bishop placed great emphasis on the divine unity. For him, God constituted one object of presentation – the one Personage of the Apologists. He did, however, admit the distinction of the Father and the Word, which became the Son in the historical Incarnation. He maintained that they ‘are one and same reality.’ ‘The Word was not ‘another alongside the Father’. He maintained the doctrine of co-suffering, as it was the divine spirit that the Father was that was identical with the Word. Dr. Kelly calls Zephyrinus and Callistis ‘conservatives holding fast to a Monarchian tradition which antedated the movement of thought inaugurated by the Apologists.’ The only group that antedated the Apologists were the Apostles themselves.


I have applied these things to myself and Apollos because of you, brothers and sisters, so that through us you may learn “not to go beyond what is written,” so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of the one against the other. (1Co 4:6 NET)

“What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? what between heretics and Christians? Our instruction comes from “the porch of Solomon,” who had himself taught that “the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart.” Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition! We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief. For this is our palmary faith, that there is nothing which we ought to believe besides.”

Exodus 3.6 with 20.3; Isaiah 44.6 with 45.14 and “This is our God, and there shall none other be accounted of in comparison of him He hath found out all the way of knowledge, and hath given it unto Jacob his servant, and to Israel his beloved. Afterward did he shew himself upon earth, and conversed with men. “ (Bar 3:35-37 KJV) As well as John 10.30, 14.8-10 and Romans 9.5. Even Dr. Kelly says that these Scriptures ‘seemed to point to the identity of Father and Son.

Posted on

Reviewing Early Christian Doctrines – The Divine ‘Triad’ (pt2)

*Note: This is the second part, and much delayed review/response. I have tried to narrow in on some main points that I hope can lead to further discussion. I am intrigued by the early ‘economic Trinity’ as expressed by Irenaeus and others and hope to study more on it. Until then, perhaps we can discuss this issues here.

In studying Ignatius, we are led to believe that this disciple of Peter at Antioch was the surest example of Apostolic preaching in the early Church, after all, he calls Christ God and dates the divine Sonship form the incarnation (Kelly, pg 92). In the Epistle to the Magnesians 8.2, Ignatius declares that there is ‘one God, Who has revealed Himself through His Son Jesus Christ, Who is His Word emerging from silence.’ Further, Christ is the ‘unlying mouth by which the Father spoke truly.’ Dr. Kelly rightly first surmises that Ignatius is an ‘economic Trinitarian’, meaning that he ‘regard God as an undifferentiated monad in His essential being, the Son and the Spirit being merely forms of modes of the Father’s self-revelation, only distinguishable from Him in the process of revelation.’ (pg93). If the common Modalist or oneness believer will step away from the word ‘Trinitarian’, it is easy to see that Dr. Kelly has defined the common definition of the oneness doctrine. It is God who has revealed Himself in His Son Jesus Christ, the distinction being at the moment of Incarnation and thus ending at the Ascension.

Unfortunately, neither Dr. Kelly nor Trinitarians stop the analysis there; he goes on to say that the definition that is so easily applied to Ignatius’ view of the Deity is wrong and ‘misleading’, yet it is there definition of the Trinity that is retro-applied in order to see Ignatius in the Trinitarian light. However, in doing so and in trying to state the proof of such a belief, he gives us further examples that Ignatius believed in an economic Deity. In the same epistle as above, Ignatius states that the Word ‘existed with the Father before the ages’ while expressing an emanatist theology as found in Wisdom (7.25-26) and Hebrews (1.3) when he says that Christ ‘came forth from the unique Father, was with Him and has returned to Him’ (6.1; 7.2). This is not difficult for a Modalist with an economic view of the Deity. Dr. Kelly finishes his thoughts on Ignatius by acknowledging ‘the only hint he (Ignatius) gives of the nature of this distinction within the unity of the divine spirit is that Christ is the Father’s ‘thought’ (pg93).

Not wishing to spend too much time on the relative unknown Hermas, Dr. Kelly notes that the Shepherd confuses the Spirit with the Son of God, possibly leading to a dyadic view of the Godhead. It is also noted that Hermas seems to view Christ in adoptionist terms as he points to the flesh of Jesus as a ‘partner with the Holy Spirit.’ On the other hand, Hermas follows the so far Tradition view that the distinction begins at the Incarnation. (pg94)

Dr. Kelly notes (pg95) that the evidence that is collected from the Apostolic Fathers is ‘meager, and tantalizingly inconclusive’ although he notes that the pre-existence of Christ was ‘generally taken for granted, as was His role in creation as well as redemption.’ These themes coalesce with Pauline and Johannine thought as well as the Wisdom Tradition in Late Judaism, however ‘of a doctrine of the Trinity in the strict sense there is of course no sign, although the Church’s triadic formula left its mark everywhere’. Can there be a triadic formula without the Trinity as developed through Nicaea and Chalcedon? Only in a proper theology, such as Modalism, or as Dr. Kelly said, ‘economic Trinitarianism’.

Dr. Kelly (pg95) says that the Apologists were the first to try to fit the Gospel into an intellectual framework, proposing a solution which essentially was ‘a pre-existent Christ’ was ‘the Father’s thought or mind and that as manifested in creation and revelation, He was its extrapolation or expression.’ This, of course, was essentially the doctrine of the Logos, however it must be reminded that of the 330 times that the Greek logos is used in the New Testament, only four times does it carry theological implications, and only by John. While many continued to seek the meaning of logos in the Stoics or in Philo, they failed to use the Scriptures that the Church already had which was Wisdom. Even Dr. Kelly admits that the early Church choose Philo and his use of logos than John’s, which does give way to a distinction, more so than either John or Wisdom’s author intended. In using Greek philosophy, they gained the idea of a technical distinction from Stoicism, which gave Christianity the philosophy of the immanent word and the word uttered.

This teaching, according to Dr. Kelly, first clearly appears Justin who used Greek philosophy to underlie any thought that he had. He even went so far as to declare that long dead pagans, such as Hereclitus (c600B.C.), were in fact Christians because they had developed the philosophy of the logos. It was this Logos, that had ‘united men to God’ in order that they would have ‘knowledge of Him’ that Justin said became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. According to Dr. Kelly, the logos/Christ was not merely distinct in name only, but also ‘numerically’ (quoting Justin). This development was supported by three points, namely:

· The alleged appearances of God in the Old Testament which suggests that ‘below the Creator of all things there is Another Who is, and is called, God and Lord’, since it is inconceivable that the ‘Master and Father of all things should have abandoned all supercelestial affairs and made Himself visible in a minute corner of the world’.

  • Frequent Old Testament passages which represent God as conversing with another, ‘Who is presumable a rational being like Himself’
  • The Wisdom Texts, such as Proverbs 8.22, since ‘everyone must agree that the offspring is other than its begetter.

Justin would say of the logos that ‘having been put forth as an offspring from the Father, was with Him before all creatures, and the Father had converse with Him’ but that he was ‘adorable, He is God’ while also saying ‘we adore, next to God, the Logos derived from the increate and ineffable God, seeing that for our sakes He became man.’ A quick glance as Dr. Kelly’s quotes from Justin seems to display that Justin say the Logos as a separate being. Further, Justin, in his 1st Apology (13.3) seemed to speak of the Logos as a ‘second God’ and worshipped ‘in a secondary rank’. (pg101). Justin also made an attempt to ‘extract testimony to His (the ‘prophetic Spirit’) as a third divine being from Plato’s writings’ (pf100).

Tatian, as we know, was a disciple of Justin and employed the same language as Justin in dealing with the Logos. Like Justin, Tatian, saw the Logos as being ‘born’ but not being severed from the essence that is God. This is clearly a Trinitarian concept from the West. However, Tatian had a sharper context of the Logos than Justin, especially when it came to the generation of the Logos. According to Tatian, ‘before creation God was alone, the Logos being immanent in Him as His potentiality for creating all tings, but at the moment of creation He leaped froth from the Father as His ‘primordial work’. Here again, we see a great divergence from biblical concepts, words, and ideas.

  1. Dr. Kelly (pg100) makes two points in the Apologists’ ‘which, because of their far-reaching importance, must be heavily underlined:
  2. For all of these Apologists, the ‘description ‘God the Father’ connoted, not the first Person of the Holy Trinity, but the one Godhead considered as author of whatever exists’
  3. All, ‘Athenagoras included, dated the generation of the Logos, and so His eligibility for the title ‘Son’, not from his origination within the being of the Godhead, but from His emission’ or emanation ‘for the purposes of creation, revelation, and redemption.’

Dr. Kelly wants a firm grasp on these two concepts or he fears that a distorted view of their theology is likely to happen. Two ‘stock criticisms’, as Dr. Kelly says, are that ‘they failed to distinguish the Logos from the Father until He was required for the work of creation, and that, as a corollary, they were guilty of subordinating the Son to the Father. Remember, Nicaea established that the Son and the Spirit were co-eternal with the Father, and all three ungenerate, yet, the early Apologists lined upon with each other, and with the view of ‘oneness’ doctrine, that the Logos was generated for a certain purpose, and like the economic view of the Deity, once those purposes were completed, the distinction ceased.

In discussing the Apologists and the Trinity, Dr. Kelly fails to take into context the word ‘trinity’ in Theophilus’ writings, who was the first person to use this word. To quote Theophilus,

But the moon wanes monthly, and in a manner dies, being a type of man; then it is born again, and is crescent, for a pattern of the future resurrection. In like manner also the 101 three days which were before the luminaries, are types of the Trinity, of God, and His Word, and His wisdom.

If we were but to stop reading at this point, we would understand that Theophilus did indeed see a Trinity of persons, or at least was driving that way, however, Theophilus continued his words with,

And the fourth is the type of man, who needs light, that so there may be God, the Word, wisdom, man.

The Greek is ‘Τριάδος’. The Trinitarian claim about Theophilus is based on a misunderstood and mistranslated passage in his writings. It is mistranslated because trinity is not a Greek word. Thus, the proper translation would be: ‘In like manner also the three days which were before the luminaries, are types of the three of God, and His Word, and His wisdom.’ Adding to the three of God, is a fourth, that of man. It would be somewhat in error to say that Humanity is a Fourth Person in the Godhead.

In discussing the third Person of the Trinity, we find little evidence in the Apologists for the inclusion of the Spirit, for Dr. Kelly says, ‘Yet, as compared with their thought about the Logos, the Apologists appear to have been extremely vague as to the exact status and role of the Spirit.’ Even as late as 380, Gregory Nazianzus said, “Of the wise among us, some consider the Holy Ghost an influence, others a creature, others God himself, and again others know not which way to decide, from reverence, as they say, for the Holy Scripture, which declares nothing exact in the case. For this reason they waver between worshipping and not worshipping the Holy Ghost, and strike a middle course, which is in fact, however, a bad one”

Dr. Kelly, showing that the ‘thought was highly confused’ says that Justin ‘attributes the inspiration of the prophets to the Logos’ while Theophilus ‘suggests that it was the Logos Who, being divine spirit, illuminated their minds.’ Justin fails to even assign a place for the Spirit in the incarnation. He assigned the ‘power of the Most High’, as recorded in Luke 1.35, not as the Spirit, but as the Logos, ‘Whom he envisaged as entering the womb of the Blessed Virgin and acting as agent of His won incarnation.’ Somehow, it seems that Justin missed the first part of the verse, which in its entirety reads:

And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. (Luk 1:35 NKJV)

Dr. Kelly notes that much of Justin’s language points to a ‘subpersonal’ Spirit, but approaches the personal when he speaks of the ‘prophetic Spirit’. Returning to a thought made before, Justin further regulates the Spirit to a third rank, after Christ.

Irenaeus seems to undertake the economic Deity and expound upon it. He could claim that ‘by the very essence and nature of His being there is but one God’ and yet ‘according to the economy of our redemption there are both Father and Son.’ Dr. Kelly makes mention that Irenaeus had a ‘firmer grasp and more explicit statement of this notion of ‘the economy’’. Applying Dr. Kelly’s definition of the ‘economy’, it is believable that Modalism as presently understood existed as a doctrine – more so than the Trinity – from the time of the Apostles to Irenaeus, as we have seen. (It is interesting to note Dr. Kelly’s comments that for Irenaeus, ‘Son’ and ‘Word’ are merely synonyms, as this author believes.)

In exploring the Spirit and Irenaeus, Dr. Kelly says, ‘although Irenaeus nowhere expressly designates Him God’ the Spirit clearly ‘ranked as divine in his yes’. In this picture, Kelly (pg107) states that ‘we have …the most complete, and also most explicitly Trinitarian, to be met with before Tertullian.’ Yet, he goes on to issue was is an economic view of the Deity, and a rather modalistic view as well, that what Irenaeus lacks is a picture of co-equality, ‘but rather of a single personage, the Father Who is Godhead Itself, with His mind, or rationality, and His wisdom.’ This, Kelly states, is because of their ‘fundamental tenet of monotheism’ going on to say that this type of thought ‘has been given the label ‘economic Trinitarianism’, but caution is well heeded. This term, like the term Trinity, is only backwards applied, yet in the concept of ‘economic Trinitarianism’ we find striking similarity to oneness doctrine, minus the unbiblical words of ‘economy’ and ‘Trinity’.


Or, emanation

History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-600.

Posted on

Reviewing Early Christian Doctrines – The Divine 'Triad' (pt1)

Note: I had to break the discussion on this chapter up into two. I will post the other one, I hope, something this afternoon or perhaps later tonight.

In the first section of this chapter, Dr. Kelly exposes us to some of the early writers who readily defined God as one, as Creator and as Father only in the aspect of His creator ship. He states (pg83) that “‘Father’ (in this period) referred primarily to His role as creator and author of all things. This comes at the end of a series of statements where Hermas writes (88-97) that the first commandment is to ‘believe that God is one, Who created and established all things, bringing them into existence out of non-existence’. Moving to Clement of Rome (88-99), we read that Clement saw God as ‘the Father and creator of the entire cosmos’ while for Barnabas (c100), He is ‘our maker’. Kelly acknowledges that this ideas derived directly from the Bible and from latter-day Judaism, and rarely from the philosophy of the day. Acknowledging this leads us to ask, ‘if the bible was a sturdy foundation for these first generation writers, then what lead to the change?’

The Apologists, those coming after the Apostles, seemed to flirt with the idea of secular thought (i.e., paganism and philosophy) as a defense of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Doctrine of the Church. This, however, is an interpretation 1800 years removed. Dr. Kelly, citing on the first apologist, Aristides of Athens, says he opened his letter to the emperor Hadrian with a demonstration of God’s existence based on Aristotle’s argument from motion. (pg84) Aristides does go one to acknowledge only one God, ‘and apart from Him worship no other God.

In moving to Justin Martyr, Kelly focuses on his language ‘strongly colored’ by the ‘Platonizing Stoicism of the day’. Tertullian, separate from Justin by the Mediterranean Sea, stated,

“What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? what between heretics and Christians? Our instruction comes from “the porch of Solomon,” who had himself taught that “the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart.” Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition! We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief. For this is our palmary faith, that there is nothing which we ought to believe besides.

Justin, however, felt completely comfortable combining Christian doctrine with pagan philosophy, establishing an Academy instead of teaching from the Porch. The Martyr went so far as to sincerely hold to the notion that the great Greek thinkers ‘had access to the works of Moses’. Kelly points out that much of Justin can be found in Plato’s Timaeus (pg84) ‘which Justin supposed to be akin to, and borrowed from, that contained in Genesis’. For Justin, God was ‘everlasting, ineffable and without name, changeless and impassable, and ingenerate’. He is also ‘Creator of the Universe, maker and Father of all things; Himself above being, He is the cause of all existence.’ It is worth nothing that Justin’s conversion experience leaves doubt in the mind of the modern believer as to the intentions of the philosopher. Was it repentance or merely a search for purer philosophy that attracted Justin to Christianity?

The era of the Reformation has not been kind to Justin. Flacius discovered “blemishes” in Justin’s theology, which he attributed to the influence of pagan philosophers; and in modern times Semler and S.G. Lange have made him out a thorough Hellene, while Semisch and Otto defend him from this charge. In opposition to the school of Ferdinand Christian Baur, who considered him a Jewish Christian, Albrecht Ritschl has pointed out that it was precisely because he was a Gentile Christian that he did not fully understand the Old Testament foundation of Paul’s teaching, and explained in this way the modified character of his Paulinism and his legal mode of thought. M. von Engelhardt has attempted to extend this line of treatment to Justin’s entire theology, and to show that his conceptions of God, of free will and righteousness, of redemption, grace, and merit prove the influence of the cultivated Greek pagan world of the second century, dominated by the Platonic and Stoic philosophy.

Kelly then moves to Tatian, the pupil of Justin, however, Tatian is a worthy mention. According to Irenaeus, was expelled from the Roman Church because of his encratitic ways. This is a heretical sect which Tatian is accused of starting which attempted to live a very ascetic way of live, forbidding marriage and abstaining from meat. Supposedly his excommunication was a result of his following of Valentinus the Gnostic, of course, this did not stop Tatian from establishing a school of thought as well as, as some say, teaching Clement of Alexandria.

Kelly then goes on to mention Theophilus and Athenagoras in describing creation ex nihilo. It is interesting to here Theophilus’ description of God, which Kelly relates,

‘Without beginning because uncreated, immutable because immortal, Lord because He is Lord over all things, Father because He is prior to all things, most high because He is above all things, almighty because he holds all things; for the heights of the heavens, the depths of the abysses and the ends of the world are in His hands’.

It is noteworthy because of what is lacking: any notion of a ‘Son’ and thus a traditional understanding of the Father-Son relationship in the Trinity. We also see that the notion of ‘Father’ and ‘Almighty’ is in line with Clement of Alexandria and Barnabas. Even here, in the philosophers, we fail to find any mention of the Father as described in the Trinity.

Theophilus was ‘particularly critical of the Platonic notion of the eternity of matter, arguing that, if it were true, God could not be the creator of all thing, and therefore His ‘monarchy’, i.e His position of sole first principle, must go by the board, ‘ says Dr. Kelly. We have to first understand that if Clement (who was in the apostolic succession from Peter) as well as these early Apologists, never used the word ‘Father’ in relation to an co-eternal Son, then the idea of a Trinity as proposed by Nicaea is unknown to the Apostles. If, as according to Theophilus, God is the sole source, the first principle of Creation, then that means that the Wisdom and the Word, or the Spirit and the Son, are created beings at the very least, dismissing the notion that later develops that the Son and the Spirit are both co-eternal with the Father.

Dr. Kelly moves to Irenaeus, often times called the first Orthodox theologian for this strict adherence to Tradition. The author states that the task of this theologian was different that that of the Apologists, ‘being to rebut the Gnostics’ theology of a hierarchy of aeons descending from an unknowable Supreme God.’ Dr. Kelly provides us with texts to make the position taken by Irenaeus clear. In Haer. 2, I, I, Irenaeus states:

It is clear that we should start with the first, most important proposition, vis. God the Creator (a demiurgo deo), Who made heave and earth and everything in them, the God Whom they (the Gnostics) blasphemously describe as an abortive product; and that we should show that there is nothing above or after Him…since He is alone God, alone Lord, alone creator, alone Father, and alone contains all things and bestows existence on them’.

In another work, Irenaeus cites the first article of faith as:

God the Father, increate, unengendered, invisible, one and only Deity, creator of the universe.

Irenaeus taught that “God exercises His creative activity through His Word and His Wisdom, or Spirit, and was a firm believer in creation ex nihilo, point out that ‘mean indeed cannot make anything out of nothing, but only of material already before them.’” We fail to see yet a clear distinction, in the vein of the Trinity, in the words of Irenaeus. It is by the Word (which is Christ) that God creates, yet Irenaeus does seem to argue with Paul who said that Christ was the Wisdom of God. Kelly goes on to say that Irenaeus, in his war waged against the Gnostics, believed ‘every subordinate emanation must share the nature of its principle, but thy very notion of Godhead excludes a plurality of Gods.’ (pg87)

Irenaeus says, ‘Either there must be one God Who contains all things and has made every creature according to His will: or there must be many indeterminate creators or gods, each beginning and ending at his place in the series’, and in saying such, Irenaeus stands as an accuser of the Trinity belief that God is divisible, and that each Person of the Godhead, distinct from one another, has only a place in a series.

Moving into the section which Dr. Kelly has named ‘The Church’s Faith’, he notes that the New Testament, yet uncanonized by the middle of the Second Century, was exerting a ‘powerful influence’. Dr. Kelly also notes ‘how deeply the conception of a plurality of divine Persons was imprinted on the apostolic tradition and the popular faith’ ignoring Tertullian’s quote that the majority of believers knew of only Person in the Godhead, assuming that a plurality lead to paganism. Dr. Kelly does, however, being to build the concept that the dyadic and triadic pattern of the Godhead began to take shape; however, he ignores the monad creeds that are found on the pages of Holy Writ, namely:

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:

God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory.

(1Ti 3:16 NKJV)

That if you will profess with your mouth that Jesus is God, and will believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved!

(Rom 10:9 CTV-NT)

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider Deity something to be held so tightly to, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

(Php 2:5-8 CTV-NT

It must be noted that these early ‘creeds’ of the Church exhibited only a monad theology, that Jesus Christ was God.

Moving to the issue of baptism, Dr. Kelly notes that the baptismal rite provides evidence of a triadic formula of the Godhead, yet throughout Acts and even into the epistles baptism is seen only in the name of Jesus Christ. Many scholars even today note that the original formula of baptism was in the singular name while Catholic commentators often note the doubt as to the validity of the tri-part name in Matthew 28:19, yet Dr. Kelly fails to acknowledge these meager facts that demonstrate that the early Church’s baptism, in line with the Apostles, was first changed which led to a triadic view of the Godhead.

How ever, Dr. Kelly does bring to light that Justin first used a dyadic formula for baptism and only later changed it to use the third part, that of the Spirit. In the earlier models, Justin would quote ‘In the name of God the Father and master of all things, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, they are washed in the water’ while later, he added in great detail, ‘in the name of God the Father and master of all things, of Jesus Christ, Who was crucified under Pontius Pilate’, and of the Holy Spirit, Who foretold by the prophets the whole story of Jesus’. This of course greatly adds to both baptismal formulas (Matthew 28.19 and Acts 2.38).

If baptism was a keystone in the development of the Godhead, then the Apostles who baptized only in the name of Jesus Christ would surely have failed to recognize the Trinity doctrine that developed later from the heavy reliance upon the singular instance in the New Testament of baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Moving into the Apostolic Fathers, the apocryphal book of 2nd Clement opens with the monad formula,

Brethren, we ought so to think of Jesus Christ, as of God, as of the Judge of quick and dead. 2Clem 1:1

And again, the author says,

If Christ the Lord who saved us, being first spirit, then became flesh, and so called us, in like manner also shall we in this flesh receive our reward. 2Clem. 9:5

Neither of these statements lead to a dyadic formula, but rather seeing on Christ, as God, as a Spirit. Barnabas seems to have the same problem in placing the ‘spirit’ as an adjective instead of a person. In 7.3 and 11.9 the author of Barnabas calls the body of Christ the vessel of spirit, ‘presumably denoting by the word the spiritual nature of the diving element in the Lord.’ (pg91). It must also be fairly noted that the Epistle of Barnabas was not written by Paul’s companion and John Mark’s uncle; however, this book does given prominence to the pre-existence of Christ, for as Dr. Kelly points out Barnabas says that it is Christ whom God spoke to in Genesis 1.26.


“And I perceived that the world and all that is therein are moved by the power of another; and I understood that he who moves them is God, who is hidden in them, and veiled by them” – It is not uncommon for someone to search based on secular methods for something greater, but when finding the Greater, realizes the futility of the secular methods. Aristides used Paul’s method of discourse by using something familiar to the Roman elite to bring forth Christ, but in no way used philosophy to shape Christ and His doctrine.

In the opening of the “Dialogue,” Justin relates his vain search among the Stoics, Peripatetics, and Pythagoreans for a satisfying knowledge of God; his finding in the ideas of Plato wings for his soul, by the aid of which he hoped to attain the contemplation of the God-head; and his meeting on the sea-shore with an aged man who told him that by no human endeavor but only by divine revelation could this blessedness be attained, that the prophets had conveyed this revelation to man, and that their words had been fulfilled. Of the truth of this he assured himself by his own investigation; and the daily life of the Christians and the courage of the martyrs convinced him that the charges against them were unfounded. So he sought to spread the knowledge of Christianity as the true philosophy.

Matthias Flacius Illyricus (1520-1575) was a Lutheran reformer.

Johann Salomo Semler (1725–1791), was a German church historian and biblical commentator.

Ferdinand Christian Baur (1792 – 1860), was a German theologian and leader of the Tübingen school of theology.

Albrecht Ritschl (1822 -1889) was a German theologian

But he admits that Justin is a Christian in his unquestioning adherence to the Church and its faith, his unqualified recognition of the Old Testament, and his faith in Christ as the Son of God the Creator, made manifest in the flesh, crucified, and risen, through which belief he succeeds in getting away from the dualism of pagan and also of Gnostic philosophy.

1st Corinthians 1.24 which states that Christ is the power and the wisdom of God. If one would understand that the Spirit of God correctly as the power of God, we see that both wisdom and word, power and spirit, are the same in the minds of the Apostles, and this is that they are all Christ.

Posted on

Reviewing 'Early Christian Doctrines' – Inspiration and Interpretation of the Scriptures

Now, is that a shocker or what? A fundamentalist displaying an icon as an opening volley. On the left is John Chrysostom, a post-Nicene Christian writer who participated in the second Ecumenical council, but was much more than that.  I have found great inspiration in Chrysostom, and much more so after reading the third Chapter in Kelly’s book, Early Christian Doctrines. He is known for his liturgies, his extensive writings and his commentaries on Scripture.

As Kelly points out, Chrysostom had a ‘straightforward understanding of the Scriptures (in contrast to the Alexandrian tendency towards allegorical interpretation) meant that the themes of his talks were practical, explaining the Bible’s application to everyday life. Such straightforward preaching helped Chrysostom to garner popular support.’ (wikipedia) After discussing the formation of the canon, which any serious student of Christianity knows took a century for the core books and perhaps another half century for the rest of the New Testament, Kelly turns to the methods of interpretation that existed in the ancient Church.

Kelly draws a line between the two types of interpretation methods that existed in the early church. The allegorical method, most often employed in the Alexandrian School of Clement and Origen, sought a deep meaning and more often focused on words instead of the passage. Origen, as Kelly points out, would use even the names of plants as a source of some spiritual truth. (72-74). One would have to agree with Dr. Kelly that the ‘inherent difficulties in typology…made the transition to allegorism extremely tempting, especially where the cultural environment was Hellenistic and impregnated with Platonic idealism, with its theory that the whole visible order is a symbolical reflection of invisible realities.’ It must be countered, though, that difficulties in the interpretation of Scripture, although inherent, must overcome using a method that itself is not left over to interpretation. We might also say that difficulties in translations, especially by learned and lettered individuals, more often than not arise when the passage correctly interpreted conflicted with the view and education of the individual.

To the early Fathers credit, most seems to reject this gnostic form of interpretation, except of course, for Alexandria where the allegorical method was nurtured and eventually smothered the Church in the doctrinal controversies.

Returning to Origen, Kelly draws attention to his view of Scripture in which the Alexandrian gnostic saw a vast ocean of mysteries. In Origen’s mind, ‘it was impossible to fathom, or even perceive, them all, but one could be sure that every line, even every word, the sacred authors wrote was replete with meaning.’ He would go on to establish three levels of interpretation, often times employed today, as

  1. plain, historical sense
  2. typological sense
  3. spiritual sense, ‘in which the text may be applied to the devout soul’

Origen, a mastermind of biblical interpretation, was able to draw out of Scripture almost infinite interpretations. He was able to detect symbolism in every passage, every verse, and indeed in every word of the bible. He thought this method the best ‘possible to interpret’ the Scriptures ‘in a manner worthy of the Holy Spirit, since it would not be proper to take literally a narrative or a command unworthy of God.’ We can see here a near Marcionite view of scripture which lead Marcion to ‘Christian’ Gnosticism as he rejected the Old Testament as unworthy of the God of Jesus Christ, and indeed mutilated the New Testament when it came to the Jewishness of it. Kelly goes on to remark,

Finally, not only does he (Origen) strive to find a spiritual, in addition to the obvious factual, sense in the gospels, but he is on occasion prepared to borrow the Gnostic technique of seeing in the episodes of Christ’s life an image or representation of events accomplished in the spiritual realm

It is at Alexandria that the Platonizing effect on Christianity first takes hold. Origen was not alone in his method, having learned the foundation of is from his teacher, Clement of Alexandra who ‘expounded the theory that all the loftiest truths can only communicated by symbols’. Clement thought that the perfect Christians would always be on the look out for these deep meanings, failing to recognize in himself and his doctrine the Gnosticism that had eroded away at the Christianity of the the Fathers. Both Clement and Origen was Platonic (Clement going so far to call Plato divine) and given to the Gnostic viewpoint that the hierarchy of higher beings can be reflect by the lower things.

As this mode of interpretation infected the West, the theology changed, often times crsating different interpretations of the same passage. Jerome, the great bible translator and Latin exegete, seemed to ‘have held that the same passage of Scripture may have several different meanings, all of them willed by the Holy Spirit. According to Kelly (pg74-75), this tradition secured an established presence in the Church through those that followed Origen, ‘from Dionysius to Cyril’ although many would not go that far. His influence can be seen in Palestine and the Cappadocian Fathers as well as Hilary of Poitiers and Ambrose.

Typology, on the other hand is ‘characteristically Christian.’ It provides for a literal interpretation of Scripture and was firmly rooted in the Biblical view of history. The adherents attempted to bring out the unity of the two Testaments. They saw types and shadows of Christianity in the personages and events of the Old Testament. This firmly rooted Christianity to Judaism, seeing Christianity as a fulfillment of the Law and the prophets. Kelly says, ‘the typologist took history seriously; it was the scene of the progressive unfolding of God’s consistent redemptive purpose.’ Looking at things this way, Christ was the climax of the Old Testament, and the Church the new Israel. Dr. Kelly points out that this was the mere invention of theologians, but found its example in the Old Testament where Isaiah used the Egyptian bondage as a type and shadow of the Babylonian captivity.

Dr. Kelly goes on to say,

But a corollary of it was that typology, unlike allegory, had no temptation to undervalue, much less dispense with, the literal sense of Scripture.

This allowed the student to to see history as a linear object, replete with God’s trustworthiness in His dealings with humanity. Typology alone allows the Christian to rest firmly in the promises of God because it is through this method of interpretation where can define Christ and the Church properly. It is here that we can connect our present troubles with those of the past and seek hope in a hopeless world because even now we can point to a type and shadow from both Testaments where God has brought His people safely through.

Kelly rightly notes that the different schools of interpretation, Alexandria and Antioch, can be distinguished by one’s jump to allegory and the others ‘passion for literalism’. They did have their agreement on ‘cardinal issues’ such as Adam, Moses, the pre-figurement of baptism and more, but in the end, the allegorical method separate the two and brought about two different ways of looking at Scripture. In the culmination of the doctrinal controversies, it has to be seen that the gnostic/allegorical way of interpretation created certain doctrines, including the Trinity.

In section 6 of the chapter, (pg75-79) Dr. Kelly goes into an area of history in which I wish that he would have spent the remainder of the book, the Antiochene Reaction. In it he notes that the reaction against Alexandria was vigorous, and like many other controversies with Alexandra, Antioch stood up as the center of opposition (see the Quartodeciman Controversy). This time, the Church was supported by the likes of Lucian, Diodore of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret and John Chrysostom. The entire school, Dr. Kelly says, was ‘united in believing that allegory was an unreliable, indeed illegitimate, instrument for interpreting Scripture.’ Instead, they used a principle of interpretation called theoria. This was typology proper, that of ‘prophecy expressed in terms of things’. Chrysostom established three criteria for use of theoria:

  1. The literal sense of the sacred narrative should bot be abolished
  2. There must be a real correspondence between the historical fact and the further spiritual object discerned
  3. The two objects should be apprehended together, though of course in different ways

Kelly sites the example of Severian of Gabbala who justified his parallel with the creatures in Genesis 1.21 and the baptismal regeneration. Severian says,

It is one thing to course allegory out of the history, and quite another thing to preserve the history intact while discerning a theoria over and above it.

Chrysostom goes on to say to divide Scriptural statements into three views:

  1. Those which allow a ‘theoretic’ in addition to the literal sense
  2. Those which are to be understood solely in the literal sense
  3. Those which admit only a meaning other than the literal

This is not the same as Origen who sough allegory is everything that the read, instead Chrysostom sought first the easiest sense possible, the most literal sense and then after exhausting his abilities, would retreat to the allegorical. Diodore would say, ‘We must, however, be on our guard against letting the theoria do away with the historical basis, for the result would then be, not theoria, but allegory.

For a moment, we will examine John Chrysostom and his view of Scripture. In his homily on Colossians, he wrote that his congregation should not seek no other teacher than the oracles of God. And in another place, he would say,

“Regarding the things I say, I should supply even the proofs, so I will not seem to rely on my own opinions, but rather, prove them with Scripture, so that the matter will remain certain and steadfast.” St. John Chrysostom (Homily 8 On Repentance and the Church, p. 118, vol. 96 TFOTC)

Kelly remarks that Chrysostom considered everything about Scripture inspired (God-breathed), even the salutations on the Epistles. He would devote homilies on Romans 16 in an effort to convince those that heard him the ‘treasures of wisdom’ that ‘lie hid in every word spoken by the Spirit.’ Chrysostom further said,

“Reading the Holy Scriptures is like a treasure. With a treasure, you see, anyone able to find a tiny nugget gains for himself great wealth; likewise in the case of Sacred Scripture, one can get from a small phrase a great wealth of thought and immense riches. The Word of God is not only like a treasure, but is also like a spring gushing with ever-flowing waters in a mighty flood.”

“For doctrine.” For thence we shall know, whether we ought to learn or to be ignorant of anything. And thence we may disprove what is false, thence we may be corrected and brought to a right mind, may be comforted and consoled, and if anything is deficient, we may have it added to us. “That the man of God may be perfect.” For this is the exhortation of the Scripture given, that the man of Godmay be rendered perfect by it; without this therefore he cannot be perfect. Thou hast the Scriptures, he says, in place of me. If thou wouldest learn anything, thou mayest learn it from them. And if he thus wrote to Timothy, who was filled with the Spirit, how much more to us! “Thoroughly furnished unto all good works”; not merely taking part in them, he means, but “thoroughly furnished.” (John Chrysostom, Homily 9, commentary on 2 Tim 3:16-17)

“For how is it not absurd that in respect to money, indeed, we do not trust to others, but refer this to figures and calculation; but in calculating upon facts we are lightly drawn aside by the notions of others; and that too, though we possess an exact balance, and square and rule for all things, the declaration of the divine laws? Wherefore I exhort and entreat you all, disregard what this man and that man thinks about these things, and inquire from the Scriptures all these things; and having learnt what are the true riches, let us pursue after them that we may obtain also the eternal good things; which may we all obtain, through the grace and love towards men of our Lord Jesus Christ, with Whom, to the Father and the Holy Spirit, be glory, might, and honor, now and ever, and world without end. Amen.” (John Chrysostom, Homily 13, commentary on 2 Cor 7:1)

As a final statement in response to this chapter, I believe that we can readily see where the Church first had first started to fall away. In my limited studies on the subject, I have come to see Alexandria and the Theological School there, as the source of the Trinity doctrine. After reading this chapter, I believe that we can see that it was at Alexandria where the method and view point of Scripture which produced certain doctrines was formed. We see this interpretative method still in existence today, although perhaps under different names. This interpretative method allows for the individuals to ‘receive’ differing revelations and differing doctrines. It was in Alexandria and in the allegorical method that united Greek philosophy and Christian Theology, with an amalgamation producing something foreign to the Apostles and the Tradition that they handed down.

*I realize that I may have critics who would seek to void my admiration for John Chrysostom, but one has to remember that by this time, the Trinity doctrine had been firmly established in Christiandom, and yet we can still find traces of true doctrines in these people, such as John Chrysostom. We can also come to understand that certain battles were still being waged on the planes of history which affected the Church for the next 1600 years and is still raising it’s head. The battle of interpretation is one that leads to discussion and misunderstandings. Once you establish firmly a method of interpretation, you can then focus on doctrine, but until you devise a way to reach the goal, the journey is unnecessary.

As a biblical literalist, a modalist, and a fledgling Church historian, I find it necessary to examine ever facet of the early controversies which led us to the Councils the Creeds. I also find it acceptable to admire the writings of those who I would have naturally challenged, for If we can find a common ground for discussion, such as the literalist view point of the Scriptures held by John Chrysostom, then it will go a long ways into helping break the ice on doctrinal discussions.

With that said, I know that I cannot please everyone, but you are free to comment, pray for me, or try to sway me.

Posted on

Reviewing Early Christian Doctrines

Sometime ago, Fr. Robert asked me to pick up J.N.D. Kelly’s book, Early Christian Doctrines. Unfortunately, I have not had the time to devote to it that I would like (of that many could say that about many things), but at the close of the first chapter, I have decided to strike up a conversation with a few of the more interesting points that stuck out at me. I like Dr. Kelly’s writing style, although he seems to make a few statements but then leaves enough wiggle room for others to draw different conclusions.

Kelly (pg5) draws a distinction between Irenaeus and Tertullian’s view of Scripture, which might be considered High with Clement of Alexandria and his pupil Origen who distinguished Christianity into two types. One, the simple – which was applauded by Tertullian, although he lamented that the simple refused to believe in the Trinity – was a lower class of believers based on faith, or the literal acceptance of the truths declared in Scripture and the Church’s teaching. The second type of Christian was the gnostic, a higher form of knowledge or revelation. Their belief was founded on the Bible, but tried to constantly dig deeper, searching for an esoteric meaning. (This would lead Origen to be excommunicated from the Catholic Church in later centuries.) Origen and his master in studies, Kelly says, would disparage the simple believers, founded only on faith (literal understanding) regard the ‘enlightened’ ones as perfect and specially privileged by God. Later, Kelly mentions that Clement of Alexandria ‘freely applied the title ‘gnostics’ to Christians who seemed to have a philosophic grasp of their faith’.

The idea of a secret form, or deeper form, of knowledge than that of Scriptures was used by Clement of Alexandria and his protégé. Clement, Kelly says, regarded tradition as ‘stemming from the apostles and including quasi-Gnostic speculations’ while for Origen the secret gnosis ‘seems to have consisted of an esoteric theology based on the Bible’ but in both cases we see that this secret knowledge was ‘reserved for the intellectual elite of the Church.’ It is clear that Clement and the Alexandrian School confused the secret Gnostic Tradition with the true foundation of the Apostles. What’s more, is that Origen considered the canon of doctrine as those things in current acceptance by ‘ordinary Christians’. Dr. Kelly states, ‘Though it’s (the body of beliefs) contents coincided with those of the Bible, it was formally independent of the Bible.’

In discussing the actual development of the thought of Tradition as a force, Kelly notes that in the early Church, the fathers (Ignatius, Polycarp, others) treated the Old Testament (the Septuagint, including the Deuterocanon, or Apocrypha) and the Apostolic Tradition as ‘virtually coincident.’ This relation is not that difficult to assume. The Apostles were Jews, men whose religion had been focused around the written law, so for them to completely forsake their upbringing (Christianity was the fulfillment of Judaism, not a completely separate religion) and focus instead on oral tradition would be unthinkable. We can see from the Epistle to the Hebrews what extent the Old Testament played in developing the theology of the Church. The author of Hebrews did not refer to verbal traditions, but concrete words.

Kelly then goes on to state that before Clement of Alexandria, the ‘apostolic testimony had not yet come to be known as ‘tradition’. Justin Martyr used the word only five times and then only in reference to the Jewish teachers. Polycarp, in his surviving letter, spoke of the ‘word transmitted from the beginning’ (Even John spoke of the transmission of testimony from the beginning in his first epistle, while still not yet meaning Tradition) while Justin spoke of the handing down of the Eucharist. We can concede that to Dr. Kelly that the ideas were sustained in embryo, but if we can embryonic development as something inspired, we can create a great deal of doctrines, fully matured, cloned from mere phrases and thoughts of long dead people. Doctrine cannot be held in embryonic form, using thoughts and ideas to birth it.

As a third point, the author uses Ignatius and 2nd Clement’s directives to followed the bishops and elders as grounds that the early Church felt that the ‘hierarchy which succeeded the apostles inherited the gospel message’ meaning that the bishops and elders, endowed with the Spirit were ‘divinely authorized custodians of the apostolic preaching.’ In truth, Ignatius did more than invited people to listen to those that bore the rule of the Church, but could this rightly be judge to mean that they were the mouth pieces of Tradition? Ignatius, following Paul, rightly saw that the inspired hierarchy of the Church was a safe guard against doctrines and traditions of man, not the inventor of them, nor the keepers.

Irenaeus believe that Tradition was independent of written documents. Once you begin to separate the two, you then begin to create you own doctrine, independent of the Church. Irenaeus pointed out that the barbarian tribes of Europe (he was in Lyons in modern day France) received the faith without the written documents. That question is easily answered in that the Gospel message is not doctrine, although doctrine later informs the person as to the meaning of the Gospel message. Paul didn’t demand a book for the lost, but a preacher sent from God. He does his bit to counter the Gnostics however, in focusing on the fact that revelation is open and very public (contrary to Clement’s secret gnosis).

Kelly states that Irenaeus makes two points about doctrine. Irenaeus points to the unbroken like of apostolic succession of bishops in the great sees, such as Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Rome. The issue with this is that at one time or another, every see what vacated, forcibly or otherwise, by the rightful bishop or lines of bishops. Avilius of Alexandria (Abilius in the West), also known as Sabellius, Milius or Melyos served as the third bishop of Alexandria between 83 and 95. In the Church History of Eusebius of Caesarea, it is recorded that, upon the death of Anianus of Alexandria, all the suffragan bishops of his area converged in Alexandria where they conferred with the laity about the next appointment to the position. Having cast lots, they unanimously voted for Avilius to succeed him, based on Avilius’ reputation for chastity and his knowledge of Christ. If Irenaeus is correct on his theory of an unbroken chain of apostolic bishops as the preserver of the Faith, then we see that the corruption of the Church started in Alexandria, which beget the world Clement, Origen, and the Stoic philosopher that started the school, Pantaenus.

Turning to Tertullian, we find that Kelly argues that the father of Latin Theology did not ‘confine the apostolic tradition to the New Testament. Like Irenaeus, Tertullian relied on the unbroken chain apostolic bishops. (As we have seen, this was broken in Alexandria by the close of the 1st century of Christianity. The see of Jerusalem would only last another 40 years before it succumbed to revolt). If this was a guarantee, then the promise was void. Tertullian, however, was, according to Kelly, emphatic that a secret revelation did not exist. It is noted that both Tertullian and Irenaeus ministered a generation before Clement and Origen.

Dr. Kelly goes on to state that the ‘unwritten tradition (Tertullian) considered to be virtually identical with the ‘rule of faith,’ which he preferred to Scripture. (pg 40) This ‘rule of faith’ (regula fidei) was not a concrete creed, but instead a pattern that Tertullian felt could test the Christianity of a person. This ‘rule’ was not centrally known in the East and cannot be found in the Scriptures, but according to some, is encompassed by Scripture. When arguing with those that he considered heretics (he was a schismatic himself), he was ‘profoundly convinced of the futility of arguing with heretics merely on the basis of Scripture.’

Moving into the third and fourth centuries, Kelly argues that the ‘basis of tradition became broader and more explicit’. The Church began to draw more on the Fathers (Ignatius, Polycarp) that descended directly from the Apostles. The liturgies developed in certain parts of the Church were themselves taken as a basis for doctrine. Kelly notes that Basil relied upon ‘tradition embedded in the liturgy, rather than upon Scripture, to demonstrate the full deity of the Holy Spirit’.

¶Pondering Tertullian and Irenaeus’ war, and indeed the early Church, with Gnosticism, I can understand the idea that Scriptures might be regulated as a secondary defense measure, especially when your opponents so quickly quote Scripture back at you; however, I believe that Scripture must first be the rule of Faith, no matter the opponent.

What drew me in was the difference between Tertullian/Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria/Origen in their view of Christians. It seemed Tertullian had more faith in the simple doctrines and the majority of the people than Clement did. Tertullian sought to defend the Faith while Clement sought to bring it into a philosophical realm. Yet the entire cast of characters are united by the Catholic Church as Fathers in the creation of the Trinity when it seems to me that they could not have been more different.

I look forward to our discussion.


When I refer to Kelly, it is meant Dr. J.N.D. Kelly’s book, Early Christian Doctrines (1978, Harper San Francisco)

In the Catholic Church this term is applied to all non-metropolitan bishops (that is, diocesan bishops of dioceses within a metropolitan’s province, and auxiliary bishops).

Posted on