In Part 1 of this series we briefly examined what the doctrine of the Trinity is by definition and specific distinctions, which also included Mormonism’s rejection of the doctrine. The primary reasons why the Mormons reject this Christian teaching was also briefly discussed. The LDS Church claims the early church had no Trinitarian theology prior to the Councils of Nicea in A.D. 325 and Constantinople in A.D. 381, which also included the word Trinity itself coming out of these councils. Because of these historical inaccuracies by the LDS Church, we will explore what was taking place in the primitive church prior to these councils as it relates to Trinitarian theology.
How early in the Christian church was the word Trinity first used as a common term among the fathers prior to the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople? The first mention of Trinitas (Trinity) was by Theophilus who became the bishop of Antioch in A.D. 168. Regarding the creation of the world he stated:
CHAP. XV. – OF THE FOURTH DAY…In like manner also the three days which were before the luminaries, are types of the Trinity, of God, and His Word, and His wisdom. And the fourth is the type of man, who needs light, that so there may be God, the Word, wisdom, man. (Theophilus to Autolycus, Book II, chapter XV)
The translator for this work had this footnote at the bottom of the page:
[The earliest use of this word “Trinity.”] It seems to have been used by this writer in his lost works, also; and, as a learned friend suggests, the use he makes of it is familiar. He does not lug it in as something novel: “types of Trinity,” he says, illustrating an accepted word, not introducing a new one. It is certain that, according to the notions of Theophilus, God, His Word, and His wisdom constitute a Trinity; and it should seem a Trinity of persons.” He notes that the title σοφια is here assigned to the Holy Spirit.
Early church father Irenaeus commented on God creating ex nihilo:
For God did not stand in need of these [beings], in order to the accomplishment of what He had Himself determined with Himself beforehand should be done, as if He did not possess His own hands. For with Him were always present the Word and Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, by whom and in whom, freely and spontaneously, He made all things, to whom also He speaks, saying, “Let us make man after Our image and likeness” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.20.1)
These two hands, according to Irenaeus, are the Son and the Spirit in which the Father accomplishes creation. What do some of the other early church fathers who predate the Council of Nicea by 100 years have to say regarding the Trinity? Here is small sampler:
I understand nothing else than the Trinity to be meant for the third person is the Holy Spirit, and the Son is the second, by whom all things were made according to the will of the Father. (Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, Book 5, Chapter 14)
All are One, by unity (that is) of substance; while the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded, which distributes the Unity into a Trinity, placing in their order the three Persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: three, however, not in condition, but in degree; not in substance, but in form; not in power, but in aspect; yet of one substance, and of one condition, and of one power, inasmuch as He is one God. (Tertullian, Against Praxeus, Chapter 2)
‘Go ye and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.’ And by this He showed, that whosoever omitted any one of these, failed in glorifying God perfectly. For it is through this Trinity that the Father is glorified. (Hippolytus, Against the Heresy of One Noetus, Section 14)
…the divine benefits [are] bestowed upon us by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which Trinity is the fountain of all holiness. (Origen, De Principiis 1:4:2)
For it is one and the same thing to share in the Holy Spirit, which is (the Spirit) of the Father and the Son, since the nature of the Trinity is one and incorporeal. (Origen, De Principiis 4:35)
For as we acknowledge a God, and a Son, his Logos, and a Holy Spirit, united in essence, – the Father, the Son, the Spirit, because the Son is the Intelligence, Reason, Wisdom of the Father, and the Spirit an effluence, as light from fire. (Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians, Chapter 24)
The Bible is very clear that there is only one God (Deut 6:4; Mark 12:29) meaning singular in name, yet in three Persons as stated in the Great Commission by the Lord Himself in Matthew 28:18-20. The early church understood this and rightfully required this in the baptism of converts as was stated in the early church manual entitled The Didache in Chapter VII:
And concerning baptism, thus baptize ye: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water…pour out water thrice upon the head into the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit.
The formal theological formations and wording would come later in time when the church was no longer being persecuted and could reflect on theological matters. It’s puzzling to Christians why this is difficult for non-Christian sects to understand. Critics oppose the doctrine of the Trinity on the charge that the doctrine was formalized at the church councils, yet Christianity was outlawed until the Edict of Milan in A.D. 313. Just a little over ten years later the first Council was held in A.D. 325 (Nicea) to deal with the first major heresy (Arianism) coming from within the Church. . Before that time, Christians were running for their very lives, some being thrown as food for wild beasts to devour or were placed in the roasting seat to be cooked to death. It was not a time when Christians could formally gather to carefully reflect on and define theological matters.
The early church always believed in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as one God; they never believed in three gods; they also believed that Jesus Christ was fully God. An untold number of these Christian martyrs eagerly went to their deaths proclaiming their faith and belief in only one God, and Jesus Christ being fully God. It is for these very reasons that professing Christians today will not compromise on the doctrine of the Trinity and the deity of Jesus Christ. As was stated in the conclusion of Part 1, this fundamental point marks a clear and sharp distinction between Christians and Mormons, thus eliminating any glimmer of fanciful hope held by the LDS Church that it would ever be accepted into the Christian community of faith.