Vol. 2, Chapter XII (Cont’d) – Man and the Fall


It was the universal faith of the church that man was made in the image of God, pure and holy, and fell by his own guilt and the temptation of Satan who himself fell from his original state. But the extent of sin and the consequences of the fall were not fully discussed before the Pelagian controversy in the fifth century. The same is true of the metaphysical problem concerning the origin of the human soul. Yet three theories appear already in germ.

Tertullian is the author of traducianism, which derives soul and body from the parents through the process of generation. It assumes that God’s creation de nihilo was finished on the sixth day, and that Adam’s soul was endowed with the power of reproducing itself in individual souls, just as the first created seed in the vegetable world has the power of reproduction in its own kind. Most Western divines followed Tertullian in this theory because it most easily explains the propagation of original sin by generation, but it materializes sin which originates in the mind. Adam had fallen inwardly by doubt and disobedience before he ate of the forbidden fruit.

The Aristotelian theory of creationism traces the origin of each individual soul to a direct agency of God and assumes a subsequent corruption of the soul by its contact with the body, but destroys the organic unity of soul and body, and derives sin from the material part. It was advocated by Eastern divines, and by Jerome in the West. Augustin wavered between the two theories, and the church has never decided the question.

The third theory, that of pre-existence, was taught by Origen, as before by Plato and Philo. It assumes the pre-historic existence and fall of every human being, and thus accounts for original sin and individual guilt; but as it has no support in scripture or human consciousness — except in an ideal sense — it was condemned under Justinian, as one of the Origenistic heresies. Nevertheless it has been revived from time to time as an isolated speculative opinion.

The cause of the Christian faith demanded the assertion both of man’s need of redemption, against Epicurean levity and Stoical self-sufficiency, and man’s capacity for redemption, against the Gnostic and Manichaean idea of the intrinsic evil of nature, and against every form of fatalism.

The Greek fathers, especially the Alexandrian, are very strenuous for the freedom of the will, as the ground of the accountability and the whole moral nature of man, and as indispensable to the distinction of virtue and vice. It was impaired and weakened by the fall, but not destroyed. In the case of Origen freedom of choice is the main pillar of his theological system. Irenaeus and Hippolytus cannot conceive of man without the two inseparable predicates of intelligence and freedom. And Tertullian asserts expressly, against Marcion and Hermogenes, free will as one of the innate properties of the soul, like its derivation from God, immortality, instinct of dominion, and power of divination. On the other side, however, Irenaeus, by his Pauline doctrine of the casual connection of the original sin of Adam with the sinfulness of the whole race, and especially Tertullian, by his view of hereditary sin and its propagation by generation, looked towards the Augustinian system which the greatest of the Latin fathers developed in his controversy with the Pelagian heresy, and which exerted such a powerful influence upon the Reformers, but had no effect whatever on the Oriental church and was practically disowned in part by the church of Rome.


144. Christ and the Incarnation


*Dionys. Petavius (or Denis Petau, Prof. of Theol. in Paris, d. 1652): Opus de theologicis dogmatibus, etc. Par. 1644-50, in 5 vols. fol. Later ed. of Antw. 1700; by Fr. Ant. Zacharia, Venice, 1737 (in 7 vols. fol); with additions by C. Passaglia, and C. Schrader, Rome, 1857 (incomplete); find a still later one by J. B. Thomas, Bar le Due, 1863, in 8 vols. Petau was a thoroughly learned Jesuit and the father of Doctrine History (Dogmengeschichte). In the section De Trinitate (vol. II.), he has collected most of the passages of the ante-Nicene and Nicene father, and admits a progressive development of the doctrine of the divinity of Christ, and of the trinity, for which the Anglican, G. Bull, severely censures him.

*George Bull (Bishop of St. David’s, d. 1710): Defensio Fidei Nicaenae de aeterna Divinitate Filii Dei, ex scriptis catholic. doctorum qui intra tria ecclesiae Christianae secula floruerunt. Oxf. 1685. (Lond. 1703; again 1721; also in Bp. Bull’s complete Works, ed. by Edw. Burton, Oxf. 1827, and again in 1846 (vol. V., Part I. and II.) English translation in the “Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology,” (Oxford 1851, 2 vols.). Bishop Bull is still one of the most learned and valuable writers on the early doctrine of the Trinity, but he reads the ante-Nicene fathers too much through the glass of the Nicene Creed, and has to explain and to defend the language of more than one half of his long list of witnesses.

Martini: Gesch. des Dogmas von der Gottheit Christi in den ersten vier Jahrh. Rost. 1809 (rationalistic).

Ad. Möller (R.C.): Athanasius der Gr. Mainz. 1827, second ed. 1844 (Bk 1. Der Glaube der Kirche der drei ersten Jahrh. in Betreff der Trinität, etc., p. 1-116).

Edw. Burton: Testimonies of the ante-Nicene Fathers to the Divinity of Christ. Second ed. Oxf. 1829.

*F. C. Baur (I. 1860): Die christl. Lehre von der Dreieinigkeit u. Menschwerdung Gottes in ihrer geschichtlichen Entwicklung. Tüb. 1841-43. 3 vols. (I. p. 129-341). Thoroughly independent, learned, critical, and philosophical.

G. A. Meier: Die Lehre von der Trinität in ihrer Hist. Entwicklung. Hamb. 1844. 2 Vols. (I. p. 48-l34).

*Isaac A. Dorner: Entwicklungsgeschichte der Lehre von der Person Christi (1839), 2d ed. Stuttg. u. Berl. 1845-56. 2 vols. (I. pp. 122-747). A masterpiece of exhaustive and conscientious learning, and penetrating and fair criticism. Engl. translation by W. I. Alexander and D. W. Simon. Edinb. 1864, 5 vols.

Robr. Is. Wilberforce (first Anglican, then, since 1854, R.C.): The Doctrine of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, in its relation to Mankind and to the Church (more doctrinal than historical). 4th ed. Lond. 1852. (Ch. V. pp. 93-147.) Republ. from an earlier ed., Philad. 1849.

Ph. Schaff: The Conflict of Trinitarianism and Unitarianism in the ante-Nicene age, in the “Bibl. Sacra.” Andover, 1858, Oct.

M. F. Sadler: Emmanuel, or, The Incarnation of the Son of God the Foundation of immutable Truth. London 1867 (Doctrinal).

Henry Parry Liddon (Anglican, Canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral): The Divinity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. (The Bampton Lectures for 1866). London 1867, 9th ed. 1882. Devout, able, and eloquent.

Ph. Schaff: Christ and Christianity. N. Y. 1885, p. 45-123. A sketch of the history of Christology to the present time.

Comp. the relevant sections in the doctrine-histories of Hagenback, Thomasius, Harnack, etc.


Christ and the Incarnation

The Messiahship and Divine Sonship of Jesus of Nazareth, first confessed by Peter in the name of all the apostles and the eye-witnesses of the divine glory of his person and his work, as the most sacred and precious fact of their experience, and after the resurrection adoringly acknowledged by the sceptical Thomas in that exclamation, “My Lord and my God!” — is the foundation stone of the Christian church; (Mat_16:16-19 sqq.) and the denial of the mystery of the incarnation is the mark of antichristian heresy (1Jo_4:1-3).

The whole theological energy of the ante-Nicene period concentrated itself, therefore, upon the doctrine of Christ as the God-man and Redeemer of the world. This doctrine was the kernel of all the baptismal creeds, and was stamped upon the entire life, constitution and worship of the early church. It was not only expressly asserted by the fathers against heretics, but also professed in the daily and weekly worship, in the celebration of baptism, the eucharist and the annual festivals, especially Easter. It was embodied in prayers, doxologies and hymns of praise. From the earliest record Christ was the object not of admiration which is given to finite persons and things, and presupposes equality, but of prayer, praise and adoration which is due only to an infinite, uncreated, divine being. This is evident from several passages of the New Testament (Mat_2:11; Mat_9:18; Mat_17:14, Mat_17:15; Mat_28:9, Mat_28:17; Luk_17:15, Luk_17:16; Luk_23:42; Joh_20:28; Act_7:59, Act_7:60; Act_9:14, Act_9:21; 1Co_1:2; Phi_2:10; Heb_1:6; 1Jo_5:13-15; Rev_5:6-13, etc.), from the favorite symbol of the early Christians, the Ichthys, from the Tersanctus, the Gloria in Excelsis, the hymn of Clement of Alexandria in praise of the Logos, from the testimony of Origen, who says: “We sing hymns to the Most High alone, and His Only Begotten, who is the Word and God; and we praise God and His Only Begotten;” and from the heathen testimony of the younger Pliny who reports to the Emperor Trajan that the Christians in Asia were in the habit of singing “hymns to Christ as their God.” Eusebius, quoting from an earlier writer (probably Hippolytus) against the heresy of Artemon, refers to the testimonies of Justin, Miltiades, Tatian, Clement, and “many others” for the divinity of Christ, and asks: “Who knows not the works of Irenaeus and Melito, and the rest, in which Christ is announced as God and man? Whatever psalms and hymns of the brethren were written by the faithful from the beginning, celebrate Christ as the Word of God, by asserting his divinity.” The same faith was sealed by the sufferings and death of “the noble army” of confessors and martyrs, who confessed Christ to be God, and died for Christ as God.

Life and worship anticipated theology, and Christian experience contained more than divines could in clear words express. So a child may worship the Saviour and pray to Him long before he can give a rational account of his faith. The instinct of the Christian people was always in the right direction, and it is unfair to make them responsible for the speculative crudities, the experimental and tentative statements of some of the ante-Nicene teachers. The divinity of Christ then, and with this the divinity of the Holy Spirit, were from the first immovably fixed in the mind and heart of the Christian Church as a central article of faith.

But the logical definition of this divinity, and of its relation to the Old Testament fundamental doctrine of the unity of the divine essence in a word, the church dogma of the trinity was the work of three centuries, and was fairly accomplished only in the Nicene age. In the first efforts of reason to grapple with these unfathomable mysteries, we must expect mistakes, crudities, and inaccuracies of every kind.

In the Apostolic Fathers we find for the most part only the simple biblical statements of the deity and humanity of Christ, in the practical form needed for general edification. Of those fathers Ignatius is most deeply imbued with the conviction, that the crucified Jesus is God incarnate, and indeed frequently calls him, without qualification, God.

The scientific development of Christology begins with Justin and culminates in Origen. From Origen then proceed two opposite modes of conception, the Athanasian and the Arian; the former at last triumphs in the council of Nicaea a.d. 325, and confirms its victory in the council of Constantinople, 381. In the Arian controversy the ante-Nicene conflicts on this vital doctrine came to a head and final settlement.

The doctrine of the Incarnation involves three elements: the divine nature of Christ; his human nature; and the relation of the two to his undivided personality.


145. The Divinity of Christ

The dogma of the Divinity of Christ is the centre of interest. It comes into the foreground, not only against rationalistic Monarchianism and Ebionism, which degrade Christ to a second Moses, but also against Gnosticism, which, though it holds him to be superhuman, still puts him on a level with other aeons of the ideal world, and thus, by endlessly multiplying sons of God, after the manner of the heathen mythology, pantheistically dilutes and destroys all idea of a specific sonship. The development of this dogma started from the Old Testament idea of the word and the wisdom of God; from the Jewish Platonism of Alexandria; above all, from the Christology of Paul, and from the Logos-doctrine of John. This view of John gave a mighty impulse to Christian speculation, and furnished it ever fresh material. It was the form under which all the Greek fathers conceived the divine nature and divine dignity of Christ before his incarnation. The term Logos was peculiarly serviceable here, from its well-known double meaning of “reason” and “word,” ratio and oratio; though in John it is evidently used in the latter sense alone.

Justin Martyr developed the first Christology, though not as a novelty, but in the consciousness of its being generally held by Christians. Following the suggestion of the double meaning of Logos and the precedent of a similar distinction by Philo, he distinguishes in the Logos, that is, the divine being of Christ, two elements: the immanent, or that which determines the revelation of God to himself within himself; and the transitive, in virtue of which God reveals himself outwardly. The act of the procession of the Logos from God he illustrates by the figure of generation, without division or diminution of the divine substance; and in this view the Logos is the only and absolute Son of God, the only-begotten. The generation, however, is not with him an eternal act, grounded in metaphysical necessity, as with Athanasius in the later church doctrine. It took place before the creation of the world, and proceeded from the free will of God. This begotten ante-mundane (though it would seem not strictly eternal) Logos he conceives as a hypostatical being, a person numerically distinct from the Father; and to the agency of this person before his incarnation Justin attributes the creation and support of the universe all the theophanies (Christophanies) of the Old Testament, and all that is true and rational in the world. Christ is the Reason of reasons, the incarnation of the absolute and eternal reason. He is a true object of worship. In his efforts to reconcile this view with monotheism, he at one time asserts the moral unity of the two divine persons, and at another decidedly subordinates the Son to the Father. Justin thus combines hypostasianism, or the theory of the independent, personal (hypostatical) divinity of Christ, with subordinationism; he is, therefore, neither Arian nor Athanasian; but his whole theological tendency, in opposition to the heresies, was evidently towards the orthodox system, and had he lived later, he would have subscribed the Nicene creed. The same may be said of Tertullian and of Origen.

In this connection we must also mention Justin’s remarkable doctrine of the “Logos spermatikos,” or the Divine Word disseminated among men. He recognized in every rational soul something Christian, a germ (σπέρμα) of the Logos, or a spark of the absolute reason. He therefore traced all the elements of truth and beauty which are scattered like seeds not only among the Jews but also among the heathen to the influence of Christ before his incarnation. He regarded the heathen sages, Socrates, (whom he compares to Abraham), Plato, the Stoics, and some of the poets and historians as unconscious disciples of the Logos, as Christians before Christ.

Justin derived this idea no doubt from the Gospel of Joh_1:4, Joh_1:5, Joh_1:9, Joh_1:10, though he only quotes one passage from it (Joh_3:3-5). His pupil Tatian used it in his Diatessaron.

The further development of the doctrine of the Logos we find in the other apologists, in Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, and especially in the Alexandrian school.

Clement of Alexandria speaks in the very highest terms of the Logos, but leaves his independent personality obscure. He makes the Logos the ultimate principle of all existence, without beginning, and timeless; the revealer of the Father, the sum of all intelligence and wisdom, the personal truth, the speaking as well as the spoken word of creative power, the proper author of the world, the source of light and life, the great educator of the human race, at last becoming man, to draw us into fellowship with him and make us partakers of his divine nature.

Origen felt the whole weight of the Christological and trinitarian problem and manfully grappled with it, but obscured it by foreign speculations. He wavered between the homo-ousian, or orthodox, and the homoi-ousian or subordinatian theories, which afterwards came into sharp conflict with each other in the Arian controversy. On the one hand he brings the Son as near as possible to the essence of the Father; not only making him the absolute personal wisdom, truth, righteousness, reason, but also expressly predicating eternity of him, and propounding the church dogma of the eternal generation of the Son. This generation he usually represents as proceeding from the will of the Father; but he also conceives it as proceeding from his essence and hence, at least in one passage, he already applies the term homo-ousios to the Son, thus declaring him coëqual in essence or nature with the Father. This idea of eternal generation, however, has a peculiar form with him, from its close connection with his doctrine of an eternal creation. He can no more think of the Father without the Son, than of an almighty God without creation, or of light without radiance. Hence he describes this generation not as a single, instantaneous act, but, like creation, ever going on. But on the other hand he distinguishes the essence of the Son from that of the Father; speaks of a difference of substance; and makes the Son decidedly inferior to the Father, calling him, with reference to Joh_1:1, merely θεός without the article, that is, God in a relative or secondary sense (Deus de Deo) also δεύτερος θεός, but the Father God in the absolute sense, ὁ θεός (Deus per se), or αὐτόθεος, also the fountain and root of the divinity. Hence, he also taught, that the Son should not be directly addressed in prayer, but the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. This must be limited, no doubt, to absolute worship, for he elsewhere recognizes prayer to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Yet this subordination of the Son formed a stepping-stone to Arianism, and some disciples of Origen, particularly Dionysius of Alexandria, decidedly approached that heresy. Against this, however, the deeper Christian sentiment, even before the Arian controversy, put forth firm protest, especially in the person of the Roman Dionysius, to whom his Alexandrian namesake and colleague magnanimously yielded.

In a simpler way the western fathers, including here Irenaeus and Hippolytus, who labored in the West, though they were of Greek training, reached the position, that Christ must be one with the Father, yet personally distinct from him. It is commonly supposed that they came nearer the homo-ousion than the Greeks. This can be said of Irenaeus, but not of Tertullian. And as to Cyprian, whose sphere was exclusively that of church government and discipline, he had nothing peculiar in his speculative doctrines.

Irenaeus, after Polycarp, the most faithful representative of the Johannean school, keeps more within the limits of the simple biblical statements, and ventures no such bold speculations as the Alexandrians, but is more sound and much nearer the Nicene standard. He likewise uses the terms “Logos”and “Son of God” interchangeably, and concedes the distinction, made also by the Valentinians, between the inward and the uttered word, in reference to man, but contests the application of it to God, who is above all antitheses, absolutely simple and unchangeable, and in whom before and after, thinking and speaking, coincide. He repudiates also every speculative or a priori attempt to explain the derivation of the Son from the Father; this be holds to be an incomprehensible mystery. He is content to define the actual distinction between Father and Son, by saying that the former is God revealing himself, the latter, God revealed; the one is the ground of revelation, the other is the actual, appearing revelation itself. Hence he calls the Father the invisible of the Son, and the Son the visible of the Father. He discriminates most rigidly the conceptions of generation and of creation. The Son, though begotten of the Father, is still like him, distinguished from the created world, as increate, without beginning, and eternal. All this plainly shows that Irenaeus is much nearer the Nicene dogma of the substantial identity of the Son with the Father, than Justin and the Alexandrians. If, as he does in several passages, he still subordinates the Son to the Father, be is certainly inconsistent; and that for want of an accurate distinction between the eternal Logos and the actual Christ. Expressions like “my Father is greater than I,” which apply only to the Christ of history, he refers also, like Justin and Origen, to the eternal Word. On the other hand, he has been charged with leaning in the opposite direction towards the Sabellian and Patripassian views, but unjustly. Apart from his frequent want of precision in expression, he steers in general, with sure biblical and churchly tact, equally clear of both extremes, and asserts alike the essential unity and the eternal personal distinction of the Father and the Son.

The incarnation of the Logos Irenaeus represents both as a restoration and redemption from sin and death, and as the completion of the revelation of God and of the creation of man. In the latter view, as finisher, Christ is the perfect Son of Man, in whom the likeness of man to God, the similitudo Dei, regarded as moral duty, in distinction from the imago Dei, as an essential property, becomes for the first time fully real. According to this the incarnation would be grounded in the original plan of God for the education of mankind, and independent of the fall; it would have taken place even without the fall, though in some other form. Yet Irenaeus does not expressly say this; speculation on abstract possibilities was foreign to his realistic cast of mind.

Tertullian cannot escape the charge of subordinationism. He bluntly calls the Father the whole divine substance, and the Son a part of it; illustrating their relation by the figures of the fountain and the stream, the sun and the beam. He would not have two suns, he says, but he might call Christ God, as Paul does in Rom_9:5. The sunbeam, too, in itself considered, may be called sun, but not the sun a beam. Sun and beam are two distinct things (species) in one essence (substantia), as God and the Word, as the Father and the Son. But we should not take figurative language too strictly, and must remember that Tertullian was specially interested to distinguish the Son from the Father in opposition to the Patripassian Praxeas. In other respects he did the church Christology material service. He propounds a threefold hypostatical existence of the Son (filiatio): (1) The pre-existent, eternal immanence of the Son in the Father; they being as inseparable as reason and word in man, who was created in the image of God, and hence in a measure reflects his being; (2) the coming forth of the Son with the Father for the purpose of the creation; (3) the manifestation of the Son in the world by the incarnation.

With equal energy Hippolytus combated Patripassianism, and insisted on the recognition of different hypostases with equal claim to divine worship. Yet he, too, is somewhat trammelled with the subordination view.

On the other hand, according to his representation in the Philosophumena, the Roman bishops Zephyrinus and especially Callistus favored Patripassianism. The later popes, however, were firm defenders of hypostasianism. One of them, Dionysius, a.d. 262, as we shall see more fully when speaking of the trinity, maintained at once the homo-ousion and eternal generation against Dionysius of Alexandria, and the hypostatical distinction against Sabellianism, and sketched in bold and clear outlines the Nicene standard view.


146. The Humanity of Christ

Passing now to the doctrine of the Saviour’s Humanity, we find this asserted by Ignatius as clearly and forcibly as his divinity. Of the Gnostic Docetists of his day, who made Christ a spectre, he says, they are bodiless spectres themselves, whom we should fear as wild beasts in human shape, because they tear away the foundation of our hope. He attaches great importance to the flesh, that is, the full reality of the human nature of Christ, his true birth from the virgin, and his crucifixion under Pontius Pilate; he calls him God incarnate; therefore is his death the fountain of life.

Irenaeus refutes Docetism at length. Christ, he contends against the Gnostics, must be a man, like us, if he would redeem us from corruption and make us perfect. As sin and death came into the world by a man, so they could be blotted out legitimately and to our advantage only by a man; though of course not by one who should be a mere descendant of Adam, and thus himself in need of redemption, but by a second Adam, supernaturally begotten, a new progenitor of our race, as divine as he is human. A new birth unto life must take the place of the old birth unto death. As the completer, also, Christ must enter into fellowship with us, to be our teacher and pattern. He made himself equal with man, that man, by his likeness to the Son, might become precious in the Father’s sight. Irenaeus conceived the humanity of Christ not as a mere corporeality, though he often contends for this alone against the Gnostics, but as true humanity, embracing body, soul, and spirit. He places Christ in the same relation to the regenerate race, which Adam bears to the natural, and regards him as the absolute, universal man, the prototype and summing up of the whole race. Connected with this is his beautiful thought, found also in Hippolytus in the tenth book of the Philosophumena, that Christ made the circuit of all the stages of human life, to redeem and sanctify all. To apply this to advanced age, he singularly extended the life of Jesus to fifty years, and endeavored to prove this view from the Gospels, against the Valentinians. The full communion of Christ with men involved his participation in all their evils and sufferings, his death, and his descent into the abode of the dead.

Tertullian advocates the entire yet sinless humanity of Christ against both the Docetistic Gnostics and the Patripassians. He accuses the former of making Christ who is all truth, a half lie, and by the denial of his flesh resolving all his work in the flesh, his sufferings and his death, into an empty show, and subverting the whole scheme of redemption. Against the Patripassians be argues, that God the Father is incapable of suffering, and is beyond the sphere of finiteness and change. In the humanity, he expressly includes the soul; and this, in his view, comprises the reason also; for he adopts not the trichotomic, but the dychotomic division. The body of Christ, before the exaltation, he conceived to have been even homely, on a misapprehension of Isa_53:2, where the suffering Messiah is figuratively said to have “no form nor comeliness.” This unnatural view agreed with his aversion to art and earthly splendor, but was not commonly held by the Christian people if we are to judge from the oldest representations of Christ under the figure of a beautiful Shepherd carrying the lamb in his arms or on his shoulders.

Clement of Alexandria likewise adopted the notion of the uncomely personal appearance of Jesus, but compensated it with the thought of the moral beauty of his soul. In his effort, however, to idealize the body of the Lord, and raise it above all sensual desires and wants, he almost reaches Gnostic Docetism.

The Christology of Origen is more fully developed in this part, as well as in the article of the divine nature, and peculiarly modified by his Platonizing view of the pre-existence and pre-Adamic fall of souls and their confinement in the prison of corporeity; but he is likewise too idealistic, and inclined to substitute the superhuman for the purely human. He conceives the incarnation as a gradual process, and distinguishes two stages in it — the assumption of the soul, and the assumption of the body. The Logos, before the creation of the world, nay, from the beginning, took to himself a human soul, which had no part in the ante-mundane apostasy, but clave to the Logos in perfect love, and was warmed through by him, as iron by fire. Then this fair soul, married to the Logos, took from the Virgin Mary a true body, yet without sin; not by way of punishment, like the fallen souls, but from love to men, to effect their redemption. Again, Origen distinguishes various forms of the manifestation of this human nature, in which the Lord became all things to all men, to gain all. To the great mass he appeared in the form of a servant; to his confidential disciples and persons of culture, in a radiance of the highest beauty and glory, such as, even before the resurrection, broke forth from his miracles and in the transfiguration on the Mount. In connection with this comes Origen’s view of a gradual spiritualization and deification of the body of Christ, even to the ubiquity which he ascribes to it in its exalted state.

On this insufficient ground his opponents charged him with teaching a double Christ (answering to the lower Jesus and the higher Soter of the Gnostics), and a merely temporary validity in the corporeity of the Redeemer.

Origen is the first to apply to Christ the term God-man, which leads to the true view of the relation of the two natures.


147. The Relation of the Divine and the Human in Christ

The doctrine of the Mutual Relation of the divine and the human in Christ did not come into special discussion nor reach a definite settlement until the Christological (Nestorian and Eutychian) controversies of the fifth century.

Yet Irenaeus, in several passages, throws out important hints. He teaches unequivocally a true and indissoluble union of divinity and humanity in Christ, and repels the Gnostic idea of a mere external and transient connection of the divine Soter with the human Jesus. The foundation for that union he perceives in the creation of the world by the Logos, and in man’s original likeness to God and destination for permanent fellowship with Him. In the act of union, that is, in the supernatural generation and birth, the divine is the active principle, and the seat of personality; the human, the passive or receptive; as, in general, man is absolutely dependent on God, and is the vessel to receive the revelations of his wisdom and love. The medium and bond of the union is the Holy Spirit, who took the place of the masculine agent in the generation, and overshadowed the virgin womb of Mary with the power of the highest. In this connection he calls Mary the counterpart of Eve the “mother of all living” in a higher sense; who, by her believing obedience, became the cause of salvation both to herself and the whole human race, as Eve by her disobedience induced the apostasy and death of mankind; — a fruitful but questionable parallel, suggested but not warranted by Paul’s parallel between Adam and Christ, afterwards frequently pushed too far, and turned, no doubt, contrary to its original sense, to favor the idolatrous worship of the blessed Virgin. Irenaeus seems to conceive the incarnation as progressive, the two factors reaching absolute communion (but neither absorbing the other) in the ascension; though before this, at every stage of life, Christ was a perfect man, presenting the model of every age.

Origen, the author of the term “God-man,” was also the first to employ the figure, since become so classical, of an iron warmed through by fire, to illustrate the pervasion of the human nature (primarily the soul) by the divine in the presence of Christ.


148. The Holy Spirit

Ed. Burton: Testimonies of the Ante-Nicene Fathers to the Divinity of the Holy Ghost. Oxf. 1831 (Works, vol. II).

K. F. A. Kahnis. Die Lehre vom heil. Geiste. Halle, 1847. (Pt. I. p. 149-356. Incomplete).

Neander: Dogmengeschichte, ed. by Jacobi, I. 181-186.

The doctrine of Justin Mart. is treated with exhaustive thoroughness by Semisch in his monograph (Breslau, 1840), II. 305-332. Comp. also Al. v. Engelhardt: Das Christenthum Justins (Erlangen, 1878), P. 143-147.

The doctrine of the Holy Spirit was far less developed, and until the middle of the fourth century was never a subject of special controversy. So in the Apostles; Creed, only one article is devoted to the third person of the holy Trinity, while the confession of the Son of God, in six or seven articles, forms the body of the symbol. Even the original Nicene Creed breaks off abruptly with the words: “And in the Holy Spirit;” the other clauses being later additions. Logical knowledge appears to be here still further removed than in Christology from the living substance of faith. This period was still in immediate contact with the fresh spiritual life of the apostolic, still witnessed the lingering operations of the extraordinary gifts, and experienced in full measure the regenerating, sanctifying, and comforting influences of the divine Spirit in life, suffering, and death; but, as to the theological definition of the nature and work of the Spirit, it remained in many respects confused and wavering down to the Nicene age.

Yet rationalistic historians go quite too far when, among other accusations, they charge the early church with making the Holy Spirit identical with the Logos. To confound the functions, as in attributing the inspiration of the prophets, for example, now to the Holy Spirit, now to the Logos, is by no means to confound the persons. On the contrary, the thorough investigations of recent times show plainly that the ante-Nicene fathers, with the exception of the Monarchians and perhaps Lactantius, agreed in the two fundamental points, that the Holy Spirit, the sole agent in the application of redemption, is a supernatural divine being, and that he is an independent person; thus closely allied to the Father and the Son yet hypostatically different from them both. This was the practical conception, as demanded even by the formula of baptism. But instead of making the Holy Spirit strictly coordinate with the other divine persons, as the Nicene doctrine does, it commonly left him subordinate to the Father and the Son.

So in Justin, the pioneer of scientific discovery in Pneumatology as well as in Christology. He refutes the heathen charge of atheism with the explanation, that the Christians worship the Creator of the universe, in the second place the Son, in the third rank the prophetic Spirit; placing the three divine hypostases in a descending gradation as objects of worship. In another passage, quite similar, he interposes the host of good angels between the Son and the Spirit, and thus favors the inference that he regarded the Holy Ghost himself as akin to the angels and therefore a created being. But aside from the obscurity and ambiguity of the words relating to the angelic host, the coordination of the Holy Ghost with the angels is utterly precluded by many other expressions of Justin, in which he exalts the Spirit far above the sphere of all created being, and challenges for the members of the divine trinity a worship forbidden to angels. The leading function of the Holy Spirit, with him, as with other apologists, is the inspiration of the Old Testament prophets. In general the Spirit conducted the Jewish theocracy, and qualified the theocratic officers. All his gifts concentrated themselves finally in Christ; and thence they pass to the faithful in the church. It is a striking fact, however, that Justin in only two passages refers the new moral life of the Christian to the Spirit, he commonly represents the Logos as its fountain. He lacks all insight into the distinction of the Old Testament Spirit and the New, and urges their identity in opposition to the Gnostics.

In Clement of Alexandria we find very little progress beyond this point. Yet he calls the Holy Spirit the third member of the sacred triad, and requires thanksgiving to be addressed to him as to the Son and the Father.

Origen vacillates in his Pneumatology still more than in his Christology between orthodox and heterodox views. He ascribes to the Holy Spirit eternal existence, exalts him, as he does the Son, far above all creatures and considers him the source of all charisms, especially as the principle of all the illumination and holiness of believers under the Old Covenant and the New. But he places the Spirit in essence, dignity, and efficiency below the Son, as far as he places the Son below the Father; and though he grants in one passage that the Bible nowhere calls the Holy Spirit a creature, yet, according to another somewhat obscure sentence, he himself inclines towards the view, which, however he does not avow that the Holy Spirit had a beginning (though, according to his system, not in time but from eternity), and is the first and most excellent of all the beings produced by the Logos. In the same connection he adduces three opinions concerning the Holy Spirit; one regarding him as not having an origin; another, ascribing to him no separate personality; and a third, making him a being originated by the Logos. The first of these opinions he rejects because the Father alone is without origin (ἀγέννητος); the second he rejects because in Mat_12:32 the Spirit is plainly distinguished from the Father and the Son; the third he takes for the true and scriptural view, because everything was made by the Logos. Indeed, according to Mat_12:32, the Holy Spirit would seem to stand above the Son; but the sin against the Holy Ghost is more heinous than that against the Son of Man, only because he who has received the Holy Spirit stands higher than he who has merely the reason from the Logos.

Here again Irenaeus comes nearer than the Alexandrians to the dogma of the perfect substantial identity of the Spirit with the Father and the Son; though his repeated figurative (but for this reason not so definite) designation of the Son and Spirit as the “hands” of the Father, by which he made all things, implies a certain subordination. He differs from most of the Fathers in referring the Wisdom of the book of Proverbs not to the Logos but to the Spirit; and hence must regard him as eternal. Yet he was far from conceiving the Spirit a mere power or attribute; he considered him an independent personality, like the Logos. “With God” says he, “are ever the Word and the Wisdom, the Son and the Spirit, through whom and in whom he freely made all things, to whom he said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’” But he speaks more of the operations than of the nature of the Holy Ghost. The Spirit predicted in the prophets the coming of Christ; has been near to man in all divine ordinances; communicates the knowledge of the Father and the Son; gives believers the consciousness of sonship; is fellowship with Christ, the pledge of imperishable life, and the ladder on which we ascend to God.

In the Montanistic system the Paraclete occupies a peculiarly important place. He appears there as the principle of the highest stage of revelation, or of the church of the consummation. Tertullian made the Holy Spirit the proper essence of the church, but subordinated him to the Son, as he did the Son to the Father, though elsewhere he asserts the “unitas substantiae.” In his view the Spirit proceeds “a Patre per Filium,” as the fruit from the root through the stem. The view of the Trinity presented by Sabellius contributed to the suppression of these subordinatian ideas.


149. The Holy Trinity

Comp. the works quoted in § 144, especially Petravius, Bull, Baur, and Dorner.

Here now we have the elements of the dogma of the Trinity, that is, the doctrine of the living, only true God, Father, Son, and Spirit, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things. This dogma has a peculiar, comprehensive, and definitive import in the Christian system, as a brief summary of all the truths and blessings of revealed religion. Hence the baptismal formula (Mat_28:19), which forms the basis of all the ancient creeds, is trinitarian; as is the apostolic benediction also (2Co_13:14). This doctrine meets us in the Scriptures, however, not so much in direct statements and single expressions, of which the two just mentioned are the clearest, as in great living facts; in the history of a threefold revelation of the living God in the creation and government, the reconciliation and redemption, and the sanctification and consummation of the world — a history continued in the experience of Christendom. In the article of the Trinity the Christian conception of God completely defines itself, in distinction alike from the abstract monotheism of the Jewish religion, and from the polytheism and dualism of the heathen. It has accordingly been looked upon in all ages as the sacred symbol and the fundamental doctrine of the Christian church, with the denial of which the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and the divine character of the work of redemption and sanctification, fall to the ground.

On this scriptural basis and the Christian consciousness of a threefold relation we sustain to God as our Maker, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, the church dogma of the Trinity arose; and it directly or indirectly ruled even the ante-Nicene theology though it did not attain its fixed definition till in the Nicene age. It is primarily of a practical religious nature, and speculative only in a secondary sense. It arose not from the field of metaphysics, but from that of experience and worship; and not as an abstract, isolated dogma, but in inseparable connection with the study of Christ and of the Holy Spirit; especially in connection with Christology, since all theology proceeds from “God in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.” Under the condition of monotheism, this doctrine followed of necessity from the doctrine of the divinity of Christ and of the Holy Spirit. The unity of God was already immovably fixed by the Old Testament as a fundamental article of revealed religion in opposition to all forms of idolatry. But the New Testament and the Christian consciousness as firmly demanded faith in the divinity of the Son, who effected redemption, and of the Holy Spirit, who founded the church and dwells in believers; and these apparently contradictory interests could be reconciled only in the form of the Trinity; that is, by distinguishing in the one and indivisible essence of God three hypostases or persons; at the same time allowing for the insufficiency of all human conceptions and words to describe such an unfathomable mystery.

The Socinian and rationalistic opinion, that the church doctrine of the Trinity sprang from Platonism and Neo-Platonism is therefore radically false. The Indian Trimurti, altogether pantheistic in spirit, is still further from the Christian Trinity. Only thus much is true, that the Hellenic philosophy operated from without, as a stimulating force, upon the form of the whole patristic theology, the doctrines of the Logos and the Trinity among the rest; and that the deeper minds of heathen antiquity showed a presentiment of a threefold distinction in the divine essence: but only a remote and vague presentiment which, like all the deeper instincts of the heathen mind, serves to strengthen the Christian truth. Far clearer and more fruitful suggestions presented themselves in the Old Testament, particularly in the doctrines of the Messiah, of the Spirit, of the Word, and of the Wisdom of God, and even in the system of symbolical numbers, which rests on the sacredness of the numbers three (God), four (the world), seven and twelve (the union of God and the world, hence the covenant numbers. But the mystery of the Trinity could be fully revealed only in the New Testament after the completion of the work of redemption and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The historical manifestation of the Trinity is the condition of the knowledge of the Trinity.

Again, it was primarily the economic or transitive trinity, which the church had in mind; that is, the trinity of the revelation of God in the threefold work of creation, redemption, and sanctification; the trinity presented in the apostolic writings as a living fact. But from this, in agreement with both reason and Scripture, the immanent or ontologic trinity was inferred; that is, an eternal distinction in the essence of God itself, which reflects itself in his revelation, and can be understood only so far as it manifests itself in his works and words. The divine nature thus came to be conceived, not as an abstract, blank unity, but as an infinite fulness of life; and the Christian idea of God (as John of Damascus has remarked) in this respect combined Jewish monotheism with the truth which lay at the bottom of even the heathen polytheism, though distorted and defaced there beyond recognition.

Then for the more definite illustration of this trinity of essence, speculative church teachers of subsequent times appealed to all sorts of analogies in nature, particularly in the sphere of the finite mind, which was made after the image of the divine, and thus to a certain extent authorizes such a parallel. They found a sort of triad in the universal law of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis; in the elements of the syllogism; in the three persons of grammar; in the combination of body, soul, and spirit in man; in the three leading faculties of the soul; in the nature of intelligence and knowledge as involving a union of the thinking subject and the thought object; and in the nature of love, as likewise a union between the loving and the loved. These speculations began with Origen and Tertullian; they were pursued by Athanasius and Augustin; by the scholastics and mystics of the Middle Ages; by Melanchthon, and the speculative Protestant divines down to Schleiermacher, Rothe and Dorner, as well as by philosophers from Böhme to Hegel; and they are not yet exhausted, nor will be till we reach the beatific vision. For the holy Trinity, though the most evident, is yet the deepest of mysteries, and can be adequately explained by no analogies from finite and earthly things.

As the doctrines of the divinity of Christ and of the Holy Spirit were but imperfectly developed in logical precision in the ante-Nicene period, the doctrine of the Trinity, founded on them, cannot be expected to be more clear. We find it first in the most simple biblical and practical shape in all the creeds of the first three centuries: which, like the Apostles’ and the Nicene, are based on the baptismal formula, and hence arranged in trinitarian order. Then it appears in the trinitarian doxologies used in the church from the first; such as occur even in the epistle of the church at Smyrna on the martyrdom of Polycarp. Clement of Rome calls “God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit” the object of “the faith and hope of the elect.” The sentiment, that we rise through the Holy Spirit to the Son, through the Son to the Father, belongs likewise to the age of the immediate disciples of the apostles.

Justin Martyr repeatedly places Father, Son, and Spirit together as objects of divine worship among the Christians (though not as being altogether equal in dignity), and imputes to Plato a presentiment of the doctrine of the Trinity. Athenagoras confesses his faith in Father, Son, and Spirit, who are one as to power (κατὰ δύναμιν), but whom he distinguishes as to order or dignity (τάξις) in subordinatian style. Theophilus of Antioch (180) is the first to denote the relation of the three divine persons by the term Triad.

Origen conceives the Trinity as three concentric circles, of which each succeeding one circumscribes a smaller area. God the Father acts upon all created being; the Logos only upon the rational creation; the Holy Ghost only upon the saints in the church. But the sanctifying work of the Spirit leads back to the Son, and the Son to the Father, who is consequently the ground and end of all being, and stands highest in dignity as the compass of his operation is the largest.

Irenaeus goes no further than the baptismal formula and the trinity of revelation; proceeding on the hypothesis of three successive stages in the development of the kingdom of God on earth, and of a progressive communication of God to the world. He also represents the relation of the persons according to Eph_4:6; the Father as above all, and the head of Christ; the Son as through all, and the head of the church; the Spirit as in all, and the fountain of the water of life. Of a supramundane trinity of essence he betrays but faint indications.

Tertullian advances a step. He supposes a distinction in God himself; and on the principle that the created image affords a key to the uncreated original, he illustrates the distinction in the divine nature by the analogy of human thought; the necessity of a self-projection, or of making one’s self objective in word, for which he borrows from the Valentinians the term προβολή, or prolatio rei alterius ex altera, but without connecting with it the sensuous emanation theory of the Gnostics. Otherwise he stands, as already observed, on subordinatian ground, if his comparisons of the trinitarian relation to that of root, stem, and fruit; or fountain, flow, and brook; or sun, ray, and raypoint, be dogmatically pressed. Yet he directly asserts also the essential unity of the three persons.

Tertullian was followed by the schismatic but orthodox Novatian, the author of a special treatise De Trinitate, drawn from the Creed, and fortified with Scripture proofs against the two classes of Monarchians.

The Roman bishop Dionysius (A. D. 262), a Greek by birth, stood nearest the Nicene doctrine. He maintained distinctly, in the controversy with Dionysius of Alexandria, at once the unity of essence and the real personal distinction of the three members of the divine triad, and avoided tritheism, Sabellianism, and subordinatianism with the instinct of orthodoxy, and also with the art of anathematizing already familiar to the popes. His view has come down to us in a fragment in Athanasius, where it is said: “Then I must declare against those who annihilate the most sacred doctrine of the church by dividing and dissolving the unity of God into three powers, separate hypostases, and three deities. This notion [some tritheistic view, not further known to us] is just the opposite of the opinion of Sabellius. For while the latter would introduce the impious doctrine, that the Son is the same as the Father, and the converse, the former teach in some sense three Gods, by dividing the sacred unity into three fully separate hypostases. But the divine Logos must be inseparably united with the God of all, and in God also the Holy Ghost must dwell so that the divine triad must be comprehended in one, viz. the all-ruling God, as in a head.” Then Dionysius condemns the doctrine, that the Son is a creature, as “the height of blasphemy,” and concludes: “The divine adorable unity must not be thus cut up into three deities; no more may the transcendant dignity and greatness of the Lord be lowered by saying, the Son is created; but we must believe in God the almighty Father, and in Jesus Christ his Son, and in the Holy Ghost, and must consider the Logos inseparably united with the God of all; for he says, ‘I and my Father are one’; and ‘I am in the Father and the Father in me.’ In this way are both the divine triad and the sacred doctrine of the unity of the Godhead preserved inviolate.”