Thursday, March 19, 2009

Theophilus of Antioch on the Trinity

First, we will give quotes from the primary literature:

And first, they taught us with one consent that

God made all things out of nothing; for nothing was coeval with God: but He being His own place, and wanting nothing, and existing before the ages, willed to make man by whom He might be known; for him, therefore, He prepared the world. For he that is created is also needy; but he that is uncreated stands in need of nothing. God, then, having His own Word internal within His own bowels, begat Him, emitting Him along with His own wisdom before all things. He had this Word as a helper in the things that were created by Him, and by Him He made all things. He is called "governing principle" [arkh], because He rules, and is Lord of all things fashioned by Him. He, then, being Spirit of God, and governing principle, and wisdom, and power of the highest, came down upon the prophets, and through them spoke of the creation of the world and of all other things. For the prophets were not when the world came into existence, but the wisdom of God which was in Him, and His holy Word which was always present with Him (Ad Autolycum 2.10).

For the sun is a type of God, and the moon of man. And as the sun far surpasses the moon in power and glory, so far does God surpass man. And as the sun remains ever full, never becoming less, so does God always abide perfect, being full of all power, and understanding, and wisdom, and immortality, and all good. But the moon wanes monthly, and in a manner dies, being a type of man; then it is born again, and is crescent, for a pattern of the future resurrection. 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. Wherefore also on the fourth day the lights were made (Ad Autolycum 2.15).

But as to what relates to the creation of man, his own creation cannot be explained by man, though it is a succinct account of it which holy Scripture gives. For when God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness," He first intimates the dignity of man. For God having made all things by His Word, and having reckoned them all mere bye-works, reckons the creation of man to be the only work worthy of His own hands. Moreover, God is found, as if needing help, to say, "Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness." But to no one else than to His own Word and wisdom did He say, "Let Us make." And when He had made and blessed him, that he might increase and replenish the earth, He put all things under his dominion, and at his service; and He appointed from the first that he should find nutriment from the fruits of the earth, and from seeds, and herbs, and acorns, having at the same time appointed that the animals be of habits similar to man's, that they also might eat of an the seeds of the earth (Ad Autolycum 2.18).

Certain scholars write (in agreement with my assessment of Theophilus):

I think that all of this Trinitarian language
is derived from the modern historian's anticipation of later theological
developments and, therefore, is anachronistic when directed
towards Theophilus. Theophilus does not speak of plurality
within the so-called Godhead, let alone present a primitive or
alternative form of the Trinity.

Quoted from Rick Rogers, Theophilus of Antioch: The Life and Thought of a Second
Century Bishop (Lanham, Boulder, New York and Oxford: Lexington Books,
200), 75.

Robert M. Grant states:

A passage in Theophilus of Antioch is sometimes invoked for the doctrine of the Trinity, but it proves nothing. He is offering symbolical exegesis of the 'days' of creation in Genesis (Grant

Stanley Burgess comments about Theophilus' so-called Trinity as follows:

The members of the Trinity are not named as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
however; rather, they are God, His Word (Logos), and His Wisdom (Burgess 32).


Anonymous said...

Hello Edgar;
It is apparent that theologians place to much emphasis on post apostalic teaching. Somehow they feel it supercedes the teachings of the bible. since these " fathers" put their own spin on doctrine, many theologians feel they have the right to do the same. Hence we have the trinity, while it true much of what the bible teaches after Jesus may have a latter fulfillment, the teachings about Jesus himself was not to be changed as Gal. 1:7,8& 2Cor. 11:4 show. Yes, the trinitians have accepted another teaching about the christ. Mostly based on many empty words of the post apostalic fathers, from there it is easy to say this scripture means this even if it does not. For if it was revealed to the post apostalic church it must be so. However, I ask who/what/how was it revealed, did it really come from (inspiration of God) or was it inspired by demons.(1Tim.4:1). Edgar I do enjoy reading your blog it gives me insight to the mind of a theologian. So I don't mind reading about early believers and what they taught. So keep it up. But, I say this to any trinitian out there. Since there is no evidence that any writings of these post apostalic fathers is backed by Holy Spirit they carry very little weight when they disagree with the teachings of the bible concerning the christ. The apostle Paul clearly teaches the subordination of the christ. No other teaching concerning the christ outside the bible can change that. Still for the sake of this exercise, I enjoy your discussion.Edgar, hope you are feeling well today, look forward to hearing from you.

onscrn said...

I don't feel competent to get into a discussion of the Trinity doctrine and its origins. I would like to point out a recent piece I wrote called Dante’s Heavenly Vision and the Physics of the Proton, which deals with a possible image of the Triune God in the physical universe.

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Philip,

A number of theologians or "believers" are convinced that the Hebrew-Aramaic or Christian Greek Scriptures cannot be properly comprehended unless one interprets them within the stream of Patristic thought. I personally believe that some things are of value in the early church writings. However, with writers like Justin Martyr, Theophilus, Origen or Clement of Alexandria, one must be aware that philosophy colors their interpretation of Scripture.

As for my health, I am doing well today. With severe diabetes and hypertension it is one day at a time.


Anonymous said...

I am 100% in agreement with the fact that they have some value. However I feel it has more with what kind of reasoning was going on in the second, third, fourth, century, concerning the ever changing christian religion. The way they responded to their opponents in writing indicates that they wanted to respond in terminology that their opponents spoke. I cannot remember if there is a term, expression for this kind of debate, but I'm sure there is something.