The birth of the concept of ‘Trinity’

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ARIUS – The Trinity Controversy in the Church

Fazal Ahmad – UK
The Review of Religions, September 1996

The first three hundred years of Christianity are fraught with factions and feuding over the concept of Trinity.

There were divisions between the major Church centres of thought; Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Rome. One such division over the nature of Jesus (as) which led to the Council of Nicaea, and the declaration of the Creed and belief in Trinity resulted from the teachings of Arius, who did not accept that Jesus (as) was divine. This article examines the arguments surrounding the Arian controversy and how it changed the face of Christian belief forever.

Indeed they are disbelievers who say ‘Surely, Allah is none but the Messiah, son of Mary’, whereas the Messiah himself said, ‘O children of Israel, worship Allah Who is my Lord and your Lord. ‘ Surely, whoso associates partners with Allah, him has Allah forbidden Heaven, and the Fire will be his resort. And the wrongdoers shall have no helpers. (Ch.5, v.73)

Concept of Christ

At the start of the Fourth Century AD, the concept of God and the nature and role of Jesus (as) were not clearly understood, and hence there were numerous new strands of thought emerging and new heresies and schisms to deal with. Regarding the nature of Jesus (as) there were several philosophies which emerged during the course of time. These ideas developed in different directions in different areas, depending upon the local influences. Roman Christianity was strongly influenced by the paganism in which it grew up and had to survive. Hence a belief in a God-system which would be understandable to the pagans was essential for the survival of the Church. Son of God equated to the Sun god or ‘Sol Invictus’ which was very popular among the Roman elite including the emperor Constantine. Elsewhere Greek and Egyptian culture had a major influence.

In Palestine, Judaism had a strong effect and many of the early sects thought of Jesus (as) as a human Messiah, a prophet from God. Such groups included the Ebionites and Elchasaites.

Elsewhere, there was a view that he was the literal ‘Son of God’, and hence part of the God-head (Father, Son and Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost). There were others that argued that all three were co-existent and from one being, while the Sabellians preferred to think of Christ as one mode of God, i.e. that the Trinity represented three states of God, but that there was essentially only one God. This preserved their view of Monotheism. In Islam, there are so many attributes of God mentioned in the Qur’an that rather than having a Trinity, Muslims would need a hundred entities if they had followed the same approach.

Yet another theory was that in actual fact, Jesus (as) was created, and hence not eternal, and therefore could not be God, and was in fact inferior. Whatever views are examined, there was no common accepted view, and the Church faced potential conflict due to these misunderstandings.

The verse of the Qur’an quoted earlier (ch. 5, v.73) refers to those Christians who believed that Jesus (as) was the ‘Son of God’, but was also actually God! In another similar verse in the Qur’an in the same Chapter Al-Mai’idah, God says:

They are surely disbelievers who say, ‘Allah is the third of three,” there is no God but the One God. And if they desist not from what they say, a grievous punishment shall surely befall those of them that disbelieve. (Ch.5, v.74).

This verse clearly talks about Trinitarians who associated equals with God in their statement ‘Allah is the third of three’. Early Christianity has a history of confusion over the nature of Jesus (as), and the nature of God, and in the interplay between the two, whereas the Qur’an clearly states that there is One God, and Jesus (as) was his messenger, the Messiah for the Jewish tribes.

The Docetists believed that Jesus’ body was inhabited by Christ, but that Christ did not suffer the crucifixion. They believed that Christ entered Jesus’ body when he was baptised, and left just prior to the crucifixion event. Indeed they argued,

If he suffered, he was not God. If he was God, he did not suffer.

Arius came along at a crucial point in the history of Christianity and made a huge impact with his theology. We shall examine his views in more detail, and see how they changed the course of the development of Christianity.

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