Novatian the Schismatic and the Trinity: Episode 40 has dropped.

This week’s episode is HERE.

Novatian is generally known for his moral rigorism and the fact that he helped begin a schism that lasted several centuries, arising from said rigorism. Following the Decian persecution Novatian taught that those who denied Christ before men could never be allowed back into sacramental fellowship in the Church.

St. Dionysius of Alexandria (pictured) wrote to him about his precisian ways:

If it was against thy will, as thou sayest, that thou wast promoted, thou wilt prove this by retiring of thine own accord. It were good to suffer anything and everything so to escape dividing the Church of God. And martyrdom to avoid schism is no less glorious than martyrdom to avoid idolatry. Nay, it is to my mind greater. In one case a man is a martyr for his own single soul’s sake. But this is for the whole Church. Even now wast thou to persuade or constrain the brethren to come to one mind, thy true deed[64] were greater than thy fall. This will not be reckoned to thee, the other will be lauded. And if thou shouldest be powerless to sway disobedient spirits, save, save thine own soul. I pray for thy health and thy steadfast cleaving to peace in the Lord.

But all to no avail, it would seem.

But before the persecutions began, Novatian had been a priest in the Church of Rome, and one of its foremost teachers.

We have a number of things from Novatian, including treatises on purity, the dangers of the theater and the gladitorial games (De spectaculis), and on Jewish food and diet. We also have a number of his letters.

Most importantly is his treatise on the Holy Trinity, penned sometime before the Decian persecution, when Novatian was still within the Church’s fold. It gives us a very clear picture of the state of the Trinitarian thought in Rome (in the West?) in the middle of the 3rd century.

What follows is the beginning of the last chapter (31) of Novatian’s De Trinitate.

There is, then, God the Father, the Founder and Creator of all things, who alone is without origin, invisible, immense, immortal, eternal, the one God. Nothing whatever, I will not say can be preferred, but can even be compared to His greatness, His majesty, and His power. Of Him when He willed, the Word, who is the Son, was born. The Word is to be understood here not as a sound that strikes the air nor the tone of the voice forced from the lungs, but rather is discerned in the substance of a power proceeding from God. Apostle has never ascertained, prophet has not discovered, angel has not fathomed, nor has any creature known the hallowed secrets of His sacred and divine birth. They are known to the Son alone, who has known the secrets of the Father.
Since He is begotten of the Father, He is always in the Father. I say “always,” however, not in such a manner as to prove that He is unborn, but to prove that He is born. Now, He who is before all time must be said to have been always in the Father; for no time can be attributed to Him who is before time. He is always in the Father, lest the Father be not always the Father. On the other hand, the Father also precedes Him; for, as the Father, He must of necessity be prior, because He who knows no origin must of necessity precede Him who has an origin. At the same time the Son must be less than the Father, for He knows that He is in the Father, having an origin, since he is born. Although He has an origin inasmuch as He is born, yet through His Father He is, in a certain manner, like Him by birth, because He is born of that Father, who alone has no origin. He, therefore, when the Father willed, proceeded from the Father; and He who was in the Father, because He was of the Father, was afterwards with the Father since He-namely that divine substance whose name is the Word, through whom “all things were made and without whom nothing was made” -proceeded from the Father. (5) For all things are after Him, because they are “through Him”; consequently He is before all things (but after the Father), since all things were made through Him. He proceeded from the Father, according to whose will all things were made. God assuredly proceeded from God, constituting as Son the Second Person after the Father, but not taking from the Father that which makes Him one God. If He had not been begotten, as unbegotten He would have been compared with the Father who is unborn. Since an equality would have appeared in both, He would have constituted a second unborn, and therefore two gods. He had not been begotten, He would have been placed side by side with Him who is not begotten. Since both would have been found to be equal, as unbegotten, they would accordingly have given us two gods; Christ, then, would have given rise to two gods. (8) If He were, as the Father, without an origin, He Himself would also have proved to be, as the Father, the beginning of all things, making two beginnings; consequently He would have also placed before us two gods. Again if He Himself were not the
Son, but a Father begetting another son from Himself, then He would have been rightly compared with the Father and would have been shown to be as great as the latter. Thus, He would have constituted two Fathers and approved also of two gods. If He had been invisible, He would have been compared with Him who is invisible and declared equal to Him. He would have placed before us two invisibles; consequently He would have also permitted two gods.

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About Gary Cyril Jenkins

Professor of History
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