Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Gerald Bray on Tertullian's "Trinitarianism"

Church historian Gerald Bray writes:

"In his counterblast to Praxeas, Tertullian came as
near as he could to trinitarianism, without abandoning
his fundamentally monotheistic and, to our minds,
unitarian position. The Father always remained God in
a way which did not apply to the other two persons,
however much he might share his power and authority
with them."

See Bray's _The Doctrine of God_, pages 130-131_ for the full
details. Similar points are mentioned in my work on


Anonymous said...

Hi Edgar!

Just a question!

You wrote a book on Tertullian. I would love to read it, but I can't afford to by a copy right now. You may have touched on this in your book, I don't know.

Was Tertullian a "Montantist" when he wrote "Against Praxeas"?

What is your opinion?

The second last chapter of Against Praxeas, Chap 30 from the ANF Vol 3: "...Meanwhile He has received from the Father the promised gift, and has shed it forth, even the Holy Spirit—the Third Name in the Godhead, and the Third Degree of the Divine Majesty; the Declarer of the One Monarchy of God, but at the same time the Interpreter of the Economy, to every one who hears and receives the words of THE NEW PROPHECY; and “the Leader into all truth,” such as is in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, according to the mystery of the doctrine of Christ.”

The "New Prophecy" was the name of the Montantist movement.

Also, is this the first chronologically of Tertullian's writings to mention a "trinitas"?

Edgar Foster said...

Adversus Praxean (Against Praxeas) is one of the Montanist tracts written by Tertullian. I would agree that Adv. Prax. 30 indicates the Montanist leanings or sympathies of Tertullian. C. Trevett believes that Tertullian became a Montanist no later than 207 CE. However, he may have been a Montanist in his heart prior to that time. Finally, I would also say that Tertullian's first use of trinitas is found in his polemic against Praxeas. See also Jaroslav Pelikan's first volume of the Christian Tradition.

Anonymous said...

Thank you!

So the "trinity" came into Christian literature through a "montantist" teacher.

If that is so, where did Montanus get his ideas from?

What exactly was his doctrine of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

Edgar Foster said...

Tertullian was not actually the first writer to use the word "Trinity." Theophilus of Antioch employed the word TRIAS but he did not have the three persons of the Trinity in mind. Tertullian speaks of the Trinity, but even he means something different by the term. A number of questions revolve around the origin of Montanus' ideas and what he exactly thought about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In Jaroslav Pelikan's first volume of the Christian Tradition, he discusses Montanus' views on pages 101-105. To put it briefly, Montanus evidently thought of himself as an instrument for the Holy Spirit. David Aune also has an interesting study on prophecy in which he too analyzes Montanism.

Anonymous said...

William Whiston wrote a work entittled:

1720 - The true origin of the Sabellian and Athanasian doctrines of the Trinity. Or, a demonstration that they were first broach'd by the followers of Simon Magus, in the first century, and reviv'd by the Montanists in the second. Drawn from all the original accounts now extant, and humbly recommended to the consideration of the learned Dr. Daniel Waterland. By Will. Whiston / [by] Whiston, William, 1667-1752 ; Senex, John, fl. 1718-1725 [bookseller] ; Taylor, William, fl.1700-1723 [bookseller].

A very interesting theory which upon investigation can be substantiated. The similarity between the doctrine of God pronounced by Simon Magus is almost identical to some statements made by Montanus and his followers.

I will give you some examples later.

Matt13weedhacker said...

OF THE TRINITY? - By Harold F. Carl, Ph.D. Subheading: DID THE SON ALWAYS EXIST? Pages 12,13:
One thorny problem to the modern interpreter of Tertullian is his language in some of his writings about the apparent beginning of the existence of the second person of the Trinity. … chapter 18 of Against Hermogenes, Tertullian also uses language that appears to contradict the eternality of the Son. Again he is arguing against the eternality of matter. God’s “wisdom” or “word” was present with Him before the creation. The Word is the one in whom the Lord took delight and with whom He daily rejoiced before the foundation of the earth. But, even the very Word or Wisdom of God had a beginning. God created Him in time. . . . Let Hermogenes then confess that the very Wisdom of God is declared to be born and created, for the especial reason that we should not suppose that there is any other being than God alone who is unbegotten and uncreated. … how can it be that anything, except the Father, should be older, and on this account indeed nobler, than the Son of God, the only-begotten and the first-begotten Word? [FOOTNOTE: 53 Tertullian, Against Hermogenes, trans. Peter Holmes, in Latin Christianity: Its Founder Tertullian, vol. 3, The Anti-Nicene Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), chap. 3.] … Tertullian seems to promote an eternal possession of the Word and Reason, and yet at the same time a generation or emission in time. … These statements are most perplexing because of other things Tertullian says about the Word. … He clearly asserts the deity and equality of the three persons of the Trinity. But there are these passages which question the eternality of the Son. The generation of the Son does not appear to be a part Tertullian’s theology that he reasoned to its logical and theological conclusions. … Even given his inconsistencies, his doctrine of the Trinity is well-developed for his time and useful for our time. Modern students and theologians would do well to study Tertullian.”