Triadology before Nicaea (Episodes 35 & 36 have dropped!!)

With all apologies gentle readers (and listeners), I was at the Touchstone Conference last week (which was absolutely fantastic) and so I couldn’t post. Nonetheless, you can find last week’s podcast on St. Justin the Philosopher (St. Justin the Martyr) here: and you can find this week’s on St. Irenaeus of Lyons here.

The texts that I used in both episodes will be below.

Just a few additional words by way of introduction, and to make this an actual blog post, and I think I may make this into a podcast all its own, namely on the notion of the development of doctrine, what it is and what it is not.

There’s an immense amount of confusion on this topic, so the need and desirability for such an episode is more than warranted.

First, anyone reading the Fathers before Nicaea will see that they spoke in terms that the post-Nicene church did not, and it will also be seen that what they were saying was not always in line with the creed as explicated most full in e.g., St. Athanasios, St. Gregory the Theologian, or St. Basil the Great.

Does this mean they failed of the Faith? No.

But does this then mean St. Paul and the Apostles did not have the Faith or more importantly, understand it? Again, and most emphatically, no.

Second, would this entail that we can come to understand doctrines in a new light, and have a different apprehension of the truth? And this would be no, if by this we mean that how we speak about a doctrine stands what our Lord, the Apostles, and the Fathers said on its head.

We only have to think about the revolutionary attempts at destroying Christian sexual ethics au courant in some Protestant and Catholic circles (and even with a handful of academic poseurs, affecting to teach what our Faith should “really” say).

The second question would be yes, but only to the extent that we would need new vocabulary in order to make the Faith clear to those to whom we speak.

An illustration I hope will work. In Seminary I had a professor who worked on various Old Testament translations, and had done some work with Wyclif Bible Translators. WBT would go into the furthest corners of the earth to translate the Bible into the languages of peoples, some of whom did not even have as yet a written language.

On such group had neither a word for holy or sacred, or for spirit. Thus the translation of the name for the Holy Spirit came out as “The Good One Who cannot be Seen.” Is this a perversion, a standing on the head of the Faith?

This is quite different than those who say such things as “Jesus didn’t know French, so how could he know what science now teaches about sexuality?” This from an OT scholar I know, and this is honestly one of the most careless things, if not purely stupid, I have heard.

On another front, I had a reader question about Hengstenberg’s Christology of the Old Testament. (The link is to the two-volume, hard cover edition, but you can find the single-volume edition, how I met Hengstenberg when a freshman in college, here.) It is a nineteenth-century work, and as you can see, Hengstenberg was a German. There are some hints of higher criticism in his work, but on the whole, it is an excellent study, and gives a great deal of flesh to put on the bones of anyone’s understanding of the OT, and what the Messianic hope entailed.

And now, without further ado, the texts.


That it was Christ who is Jehovah of the Old Testament, and not the Father

These and other such sayings are recorded by the lawgiver and by the prophets; and I suppose that I have stated sufficiently, that wherever God says, “God went up from Abraham,” or, “The Lord spake to Moses,” and “The Lord came down to behold the tower which the sons of men had built,” or when “God shut Noah into the ark,” you must not imagine that the unbegotten God Himself came down or went up from any place. For the ineffable Father and Lord of all neither has come to any place, nor walks, nor sleeps, nor rises up, but remains in His own place, wherever that is, quick to behold and quick to hear, having neither eyes nor ears, but being of indescribable might; and He sees all things, and knows all things, and none of us escapes His observation; and He is not moved or confined to a spot in the whole world, for He existed before the world was made. How, then, could He talk with any one, or be seen by any one, or appear on the smallest portion of the earth, when the people at Sinai were not able to look even on the glory of Him who was sent from Him.

Then Trypho said, “We do not perceive this from the passage quoted by you, but [only this], that it was an angel who appeared in the flame of fire, but God who conversed with Moses; so that there were really two persons in company with each other, an angel and God, that appeared in that vision.”

I again replied, “Even if this were so, my friends, that an angel and God were together in the vision seen by Moses, yet, as has already been proved to you by the passages previously quoted, it will not be the Creator of all things that is the God that said to Moses that He was the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, but it will be He who has been proved to you to have appeared to Abraham, ministering to the will of the Maker of all things, and likewise carrying into execution His counsel in the judgment of Sodom; so that, even though it be as you say, that there were two–an angel and God–he who has but the smallest intelligence will not venture to assert that the Maker and Father of all things, having left all supercelestial matters, was visible on a little portion of the earth.” (Dialogue with Trypho. 60.1-2)


{From III.18} As it has been clearly demonstrated that the Word, who existed in the beginning with God, by whom all things were made, who was also always present with mankind, was in these last days, according to the time appointed by the Father, united to His own workmanship, inasmuch as He became a man liable to suffering, [it follows] that every objection is set aside of those who say, “If our Lord was born at that time, Christ had therefore no previous existence.” For I have shown that the Son of God did not then begin to exist, being with the Father from the beginning; but when He became incarnate, and was made man, He commenced afresh(1) the long line of human beings, and furnished us, in a brief, comprehensive manner, with salvation; so that what we had lost in Adam– namely, to be according to the image and likeness of God–that we might recover in Christ Jesus.

CHAP. XIX.–Jesus Christ was not a mere man, begotten from Joseph in the ordinary course of nature, but was very God, Begotten of the Father Most High, and very man, born’ of the Virgin.

1. But again, those who assert that He was simply a mere man, begotten by Joseph, remaining in the bondage of the old disobedience, are in a state of death having been not as yet joined to the Word of God the Father, nor receiving liberty through the Son, as He does Himself declare: “If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”(6) But, being ignorant of Him who from the Virgin is Emmanuel, they are deprived of His gift, which is eternal life;(7) and not receiving the incorruptible Word, they remain in mortal flesh, and are debtors to death, not obtaining the antidote of life. To whom the Word says, mentioning His own gift of grace: “I said, Ye are all the sons of the Highest, and gods; but ye shall die like men.”(8) He speaks undoubtedly these words to those who have not received the gift of adoption, but who despise the incarnation of the pure generation of the Word of God,(9) defraud human nature of promotion into God, and prove themselves ungrateful to the Word of God, who became flesh for them. For it was for this end that the Word of God was made man, and He who was the Son of God became the Son of man, that man, having been taken into the Word, and receiving the adoption, might become the son of God. For by no other means could we have attained to incorruptibility and immortality, unless we had been united to incorruptibility and immortality. But how could we be joined to incorruptibility and immortality, unless, first, incorruptibility and immortality had become that which we also are, so that the corruptible might be swallowed up by incorruptibility, and the mortal by immortality, that might receive the adoption of sons?

2. For this reason [it is ,said], “Who shall declare His generation?”(1) since “He is a man, and who shall recognise Him?”(2) But he to whom the Father which is in heaven has revealed Him,(3) knows Him, so that he understands that He who “was not born either by the will of the flesh, or by the will of man,”(4) is the Son of man, this is Christ, the Son of the living God. For I have shown from the Scriptures,(5) that no one of the sons of Adam is as to everything, and absolutely, called God, or named Lord. But that He is Himself in His own right, beyond all men who ever lived, God, and Lord, and King Eternal, and the Incarnate Word, proclaimed by all the prophets, the apostles, and by the Spirit Himself, may be seen by all who have attained to even a small portion of the truth. Now, the Scriptures would not have testified these things of Him, if, like others, He had been a mere man. But that He had, beyond all others, in Himself that pre-eminent birth which is from the Most High Father, and also experienced that pre-eminent generation which is from the Virgin,(6) the divine Scriptures do in both respects testify of Him: also, that He was a man without comeliness, and liable to suffering;(7) that He sat upon the foal of an ass;(8) that He received for drink, vinegar and gall;(9) that He was despised among the people, and humbled Himself even to death and that He is the holy Lord, the Wonderful, the Counsellor, the Beautiful in appearance, and the Mighty God,(10) coming on the clouds as the Judge of all men;(11)–all these things did the Scriptures prophesy of Him.

That the Glory of God is The Living Man

‘No one has ever seen God. The only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known’ (John 1:18). From the beginning, the Son is the revealer of the Father, since from the beginning He is with the Father. At the fitting time, and for our profit, He has shown the human race, in a rational and harmonious way, the prophetic visions, the diversity of graces, His own ministrations, and the glorification of the Father. For where there is rationality, there is harmony, and where there is harmony, there is a fitting time, and where there is a fitting time, there is profit. That is why the Word became the dispenser of His Father’s grace for the profit of men. It was for them that He accomplished such great dispositions, showing God to men, presenting man to God. He safeguarded the invisibility of the Father, lest man become the despiser of God, and so that he might always have something towards which he could advance. At the same time He made God visible to men through many dispensations, lest man, wholly bereft of God, should cease to exist. For the glory of God is the living man, and the life of man is the vision of God. IV 20, 6-7

No one can know the Father without the Word of God, that is to say, unless the Son reveals Him, nor can one know the Son without the good pleasure of the Father (cf Matt 11:26f). IV 6, 3

The Son leads men to the Father, but the Father reveals to them the Son. III 13, 2

Until next week, gentle readers.


About Gary Cyril Jenkins

Professor of History
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