Development of the Christian Doctrine of Holy Trinity
The word trinity traces its origin from the Latin trinitas which literally translates to triad. In Latin trinus means threefold. This therefore implies that God is one but in that oneness exists three coeternal consubstantial persons- the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Trinitarian doctrine can be inferred from the New Testament teaching about God. Many falsely believe that Trinity Doctrine was formulated at the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E. (Tuggy, 2016). This is not true because at the Council of Nicaea it was pronounced that Christ was the same substance as God. This became the foundation for Trinitarian Theology. It should be remembered that at the Council of Nicaea there was no mention of the Holy Spirit as the third person of the triad. This essay seeks to illuminate how the christian doctrine of Holy Trinity has developed over the years from the New Testament Church to the Nicene Church.
There was opposition that Jesus was also God for many years. This was the reason why Constantine called summoned bishops to Nicaea where they took part in . At the Council of Nicaea, the bishops did not promote the concept of trinity (Tuggy, 2016). They decided on the nature of Christ but not the role of the Holy Spirit. Debates raged even after the Council of Nicaea. In 381 C.E. the Council of Constantinople was convened where Holy Spirit was placed at same level as God and Christ (Tuggy, 2016). After the that followed the Athanasian Creed that declared the worship of one God in Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who are not three Gods but one God (Tuggy, 2016).
At the Second Vatican Council, attempts were made to define the question What is the Church? in the constitution Gentium Lumen. The answer to the question pointed out that the Church of God is a mystery. To some, the word Church refers to Diocese, to others it means a parish, while to some it resonates with hierarchy. The Second Vatican council, however, points out how the church relates to God’s divine plan for mankind and the person of Jesus Christ. Christian faith is hinged on the mystery of the Holy Trinity. God Himself is Love (I Jn 4:8). Jesus Christ, who is the son of God, witnesses to this love and in the process reveals God as Father, and himself as Son. Upon ascending to heaven, Christ himself promises Holy Spirit (Ngon, 2016). All these are a pointer that God is relationship. God is a communion of three persons united as one God. In the Early Christian Church, Christians prayed jointly three times in a day and also took part in breaking of bread. They also ate together and those who lacked basic necessities like food were provided with their needs (Ngon, 2016). This points at some kind of communion in the New Testament church. As God is a communion of three persons, the church is also a communion of persons. These people live a life of communion just like the persons of the Trinity. It is God’s love that manifests itself through the Holy Spirit that unites the church. The church is therefore an icon of the Holy Trinity (Ngon, 2016). The communion of the members of the church is in itself a manifestation of God’s love to the humankind.
As had been indicated earlier that the church was God’s divine plan for the humankind, one would be tempted to ask when the church was founded. In trying to answer that question, some would argue that the church was founded on the day of Pentecost. To some, the church would have been founded when Saint Peter confessed his love for Jesus while others would infer that the church was founded on the day of the commissioning of the apostles or the institution of the Holy Eucharist. Lumen Gentium in paragraph 2 however points out that the Church is always part of God’s divine plan of saving humankind (Ngon, 2016). It posits that the church has always throughout all the stages of human history. it points out that the church was already present in the figure before the foundation of the world was laid. In fact, the church was in God’s mind before he begun creating the world. The church was also already prepared for in the old covenant (Ngon, 2016). The same paragraph also aver that the church was not founded by Christ but in Christ from his incarnation to his ascension to heaven. Another proof to God’s divine plan is that the church was revealed by the holy spirit at the Pentecost which continues to let the church be seen (Ngon, 2016). The church will be brought to glorious completion when Christ draws all together and offers renewed creation back to the further.
The church shares in who Christ is. In fact, it is his body and his presence in the world. This is attested to in the Gospel of Saint John: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his Glory, the glory which is his as the only Son of the Father full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14). The church has an invisible divine element and a visible human element because Christ who is the Church only became visible upon his incarnation and assuming human body (Holland, 2004). The church is therefore a spiritual communion and a visible body of believers.
In interrogating the origin of the church, this essay pointed out that some believed the church was founded when the apostles were commissioned to go make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit teaching them all that they had been taught. Those who were baptized became the first Christians. The document declaring religious freedom Dignitatis Humanae also attests to God’s plan of action to the humankind. The document underpins how God revealed Himself to the mankind through Christ incarnation. The oneness of God is revealed when the document attests to the existence of the Holy Trinity. In the Dignitatis Humanae it is also revealed that Christ Himself is the church and he spreads the church among men by manifesting himself in human nature through his incarnation (Holland, 2004).
The letter of to Flavian the bishop of Constantinople touches on an array of issues including but not limited to Holy Trinity, the Nicene Creed, and the divinity of Christ. He points out that the Nicene Church confessed their belief in God the Father Almighty, in Jesus Christ his only Son, born of the Holy Spirit and Virgin Mary. God is believed to be the Father and Almighty. Jesus Christ is also shown to be co-eternal with the Father (Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, 2001). In fact, there is no difference between them because Jesus is God from God. The fact that he is born from the eternal one underscores he is co-eternal with Him. Christ by the virtue of being begotten of the eternal father and by being born eternal of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary expends himself wholly on the restoration of man who had been deceived by the devil. To this end he overcomes the author of sin and death. This is treated as the pure source of Christian belief. Pope Saint Leo brings to the attention of Constantinople that the Son of Man descended from heaven, he took flesh from the virgin Mary who bore Him (Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, 2001). The Son of God in his human nature and not in His Divinity was crucified and buried. In the Nicene Creed the Christians confess that Christ was the only begotten son of God.
In this same letter we are also treated to a scene that some people would think was the beginning of the church. Christ is asking his disciples about whom they think he is. Peters divinely inspired confession eventually benefits all nations. He says You are Christ, the son of the living God (Mathew 16:13-16).
The letter also points out that the son of God descended from his heavenly throne and entered the depths of the world by taking the form of a servant without stain of sin. This did not, nevertheless diminish his divinity (Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, 2001). He was invincible but in order to save humankind from sin and death he became visible through incarnation. This happened to accomplish the the Father had with the humankind. God had willed to be with mortal men and the only way through which this could be achieved was Him bending down in pity. This was not a failure of power (Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, 2001). When God became visible to men the loftiness of God and lowliness of man was brought together.
Holland, J. (2004). Modern Catholic Social Teaching: the Popes Confront the Industrial Age 1750-1958. New Jersey: Pauli Press.
Ngon, D. (2016). Lumen Gentium Icon of the Trinity.
Retrieved May 18, 2018 from www.academia.edu/15882414/Lumen_Gentium_ICON_0F_THE_TRINITY
Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas (2001). Mystery of our Recollection: Reading from Letters of Pope Saint Leo the Great (Letter 28, 3-4) Retrieved May 18, 2018 from ww.vatican.va/spirit/documents/spirit_20010325_leon-mago_en.html
Tuggy, D. (2016). History of Trinitarian Doctrines Retrieved May 18, 2018 from www.plato.stanford.edu/entries/trinity/trinity-history.html