James Forrest.

Some account of the origin and progress of trinitarian theology : in the second, third, and succeeding centuries, and of the manner in which its doctrines gradually supplanted the unitarianism of the primitive church; compiled from the works of various theological and historical writers online

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Online LibraryJames ForrestSome account of the origin and progress of trinitarian theology : in the second, third, and succeeding centuries, and of the manner in which its doctrines gradually supplanted the unitarianism of the primitive church; compiled from the works of various theological and historical writers → online text (page 1 of 11)
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Second, (ftljirb, cmfc suam)ing Centuries.



OF THE l \







The present is intended as a faithful reprint from the original
edition of the author published at Glasgow in 1836. His itali-
cizing and capitalizing have been retained, nor has any inten-
tional alteration been made; save one or two corrections of a
reference, the addition of a note to the Table of Creeds, and the
substitution in some places of asterisks * * * to denote an omis-
sion instead of a dash — which the author used for that purpose
in the Greek or Latin, and which he omitted sometimes in the
English. This process of substitution, after being commenced,
was discontinued, for the means were not always at hand to ver-
ify by personal inspection that a dash was intended to denote an
omission, and without such verification the writer of these lines
did not wish the responsibility of altering it. Had he originated
the work, its plan would have been purely historical, omitting
what belongs to exposition of Jhe, Now Testament, and both in
plan and execution it' would Lave differed from the present one.
He is unacquainted, however, •with any work of the same, or of
a much larger compass, that contains iirv equal amount of reliable
information, or which woidihgiye an equally correct general im-
pression, touching the history of the main subject* treated. An
expression on p. 23. might awaken suspicion that the author's
heart was so far enlisted in the object for which he wrote as to
endanger historical impartiality. My own examinations have
been sufficient to convince me that he is historically fair.

The expression "mock-quotation" as applied in the Table con-
cerning the Jewish Christians (opposite p. 97.) to an erroneous
citation, — of a nature not unusual when quotations were chiefly
from memory, — seems exceptionable in tone, but justice to an
author requires that his words should not be altered or omitted
save in cases to which the present does not belong.

*Thc view eoueeruing the Gnostics presented p. 76, sqq. is unessential to
the historical part of the work. Notwithstanding the opinions of such
men as Michaefis and Mosheim, it is more than questionable whether any
persons existed in the Apostolic age who could properly bo called Gnostics.


As circumstances prevented the proof reader at times from a
final inspection of the sheets before printing, some errors will
be found in the Greek which might otherwise have been avoid-
ed. Those on p. 35. require this apology.

P. II.



Of the three Creeds of the Church of England, viz., the Apostles' Creed,
the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, as the proof of a gradual
change of opinion from Unitarianism to Trinitarianism, in the early centu-
ries of the Church. p. 9.


The same subject confirmed by quotations from the works of the theologi-
cal writers of antiquity. p. 21.


Of the opposition which was made, at different times, to the introduction
and spread of Trinitarianism. p. 43:


Of the principal source of Trinitarianism, as alleged by various an-
cient fathers, viz., the writings of the Apostle John. p. 65.


Of the beat, sources of Trinitarianism, and in particular the influence of
the Greek Philosophy on the minds of speculating Christian writers, p. 86,

"The three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius' Creed, and that which is commonlv called tho Apostles 1 Creed, onfjlit thoronchlv to be received and believed; for they may bo proved by most
certain warrants of holy Scripture.* Article VIII. of the Church of England; taken from the Book of Common Prayer. | Iii the Articles of the Protestant Episcopal Charch in 1 I
States of America, Article Vlll. reads us follows: "The Niceno Creed, and that which is oommonrj called the Apostles' Creed, ought thoroughly to be received aud believed; for .
proved by must certain warrants of scripture." F. H. )

ifWf-cW £&! Fs,la§ §.&*■?■'? TC.rH.ji oM

I e 3
fi s B*

la o.§2
Ij "If

I believe in One God, tho Father Al-
mighty, Maker of heaven and earth ; and of all
things visible and invisible:

And in me Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begot-
ten Son of ljoc! ; begotten of his Father before all
worlds; God of {or from) God; Light of {or
from) Light; Very God of {or from) Very
God; begotten, not made; being of one sub-
Btancc with the Father; by whom all things were
made ; whc for us men, and for our salvation,
came down from heaven; aud was incarnate by
the Holy (ihost ot the virgin Mary; and was
made man; and was crucified also for us under
Pontius Pilate ; he suffered and war. buried, and the
third day be rose again according to the scriptures;
and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right
hand of the Filther: cud he shall come again
i judge both the quick ami the dead ;
whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, [the Lord and
Giver of life; who proceedetli from tho Father
[aud tho Sou ;] who with the Father and the Son
together is worshipped and glorified ; who spake
by the prophets.]

And I believe one catholic and apostolic church:
I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of

sins: and 1 loi.k for the resumption of the dead;
and the life of the world to come. Amen.





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"Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold theCatholic Faith ; which faith, except even-
one do keep whole and undeliled, without doubt be shall perish everlastingly.

And tho Catholic Faith is this: that we worship OWE GOD IN TRINITY, and TBIIWTY IN UNI-
TY; neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the substance. For there is one ]iei>oii of the FATHEBC,
another of the SON, an.l another of the HOLY GHOST. But the Godhead of tho Father, of the Sou, nnd o!

the Holy Ghost, is all one; tho glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father 1b, such l is the Son
is the Holy Ghost: the Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate : the Father ineomprohonsi-
ble, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible: the Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the
Holy Ghost eternal ; and yet they aie not three eternals, hut one eternal. As also there are not three incomprehen*
.ih'.es, nor three uncreated: but one uncreated and one incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is Almighty, the
Son Almighty, and tho Holy Ghost Almighty ; and yet they arc not three Almighties, hut one AlmiJ* ■
Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God; and yet they are not three Coils, but one Cod. So like-
wise the Father is Lord, tho Son Lord, and "tho Holy Ghost Lord ; and yet not three Lords, hut one Lord. For like
as we are compelled by the Christian verity, to acknowledge ever)- person by himself to be God and Lord; so arc wo
forbidden by the Cattu lie religion, to say, There be three Gods, or three Lords. The Father is made of none, nei

' 1...1- I i ttttL The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost
is of the Father and of tho Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not

[;0 on, not three Sobs; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity, none is afore
or after another, none is greater or less than another; but the whole three persons are co-eternal together and co-equal.

Sothatinall thh i afor -aid, the Unity in Trinity, and tho Trinity iu Unity is to be \ ■ .

He, therefore, th-ci will he saved, must thus think of the Trinity.

Furthermore, it in necessary to everlasting salvation, that he also believe rightly the incarnation of our Lord .Te-ns
Christ. For tie 1 , i .. I.i laith is, that we belie\e and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Sou of l.ml, is Cod ami
man; God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds: and man. of the substance of his mother, born
inthcworld; perfect God, and perfectman; of a reasonable sou), and human ft< h subsisting: equal t>.
as touching his Ci.dl.c.id ; and inferior to the Father as touching his manhood . v, 1,.. ahhoueji lie be Cod and mini, yet
ho is not two, bat one Christ ; one not by conversion of the Godhead into il- !i, 1'iit by taking of the manhood into
God. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person. I'm- as the reasonable soul i
ono man, so Cod and man is one Christ; who suffered for our salvation; ib ,< \,\< d into hell, rose a-ain tho third
day from the dead ho a eended into heaven, be siitcth on the rie;ht hand of 1 1 1 ■ ■ Father, Cod Almighty, loan wh< an*
he shall come to jiide,o the quick and tlio dead; at whose coming all men shall rise u^ain with their bodies, and shall
give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into liffi everlasting; and they that have
done evil, into everlasting fire. This is the Catholic faith, which e\ce|it it man believe faithfully, he cue.
Glory he to the Father, and to the Sou, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in tho beginning, is now. aud ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.











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Of the three Creeds of the Church of England, viz., the Apos-
tles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, as
the proof of a gradual change of opinion from Unitarianism
to Trinitarianism. in the early centuries of the Church.

Protestants do not doubt, that many doctrines and practices
of the Roman Catholic church, having no authority from Scrip-
ture, must have crept into existence, at times, subsequent to the
Apostolic age. I believe that the doctrine of a Trinity of per-
sons in the Godhead, and that of a union of two natures in Jesus
Christ, had a similar origin. I think that they formed no part
of primitive Christianity, but were slowly, and step after step,
introduced among its principles, during the second, third, and
succeeding centuries. It is proposed in these pages to produce
the evidence which supports this opinion. My design will be
to show at what times, and under what circumstances, Trinita-
rian notions were first held, how they gradually spread, what
resistance they encountered, the ground on which they were de-
fended, and the causes of their conception.

A review of the three Creeds of the churches of Rome and
England will form an introduction to this subject; tor they dis-
tinctly indicate a gradual change of opinion from the simplicity
of the gospel to the complex system of Trinitarianism. The
first Creed is Unitarian ; the second is partly so ; the third and
last contains Trinitarianism in its boldest and most complicated
state. As two of these Creeds were originally drawn up to be
public Confessions, and as the third, though at first it was pri-
vate, was afterwards made common, they are worthy on this ac-
count, to be attentively considered. In this chapter I intend to
explain them in the order in which they stand.


I. The Creed, bearing the name of the Apostles', was gen«-
orally thought, from the fourth century downwards, for many
hundred years, to have been composed by the twelve chosen fol-
lowers of our Saviour.* But for several reasons this opinion
has been abandoned. Still, however, the great antiquity of the
Creed cannot reasonably be doubted, or that it is a work of
nearly apostolical importance! Irenaeus, one of the disciples,
second in succession after John, has been justly thought to re-
fer to it when he speaks of that Faith, or Rule of Truth, which
the churches, though scattered over the earth, had received, and
into which all believers were baptized, on acknowledging Chris-
tianity."! The copy, indeed, which this father has quoted, dif-
fers considerably from that now generally known. But thio
has been explained by supposing that Irenaeus did not so much
intend to give the form itself as a commentary on it, since in
another part of his writings we find a different version of it, or
rather a different commentary on the same Creed. §

It appears that this form of faith was not at first committed
to paper, but was used orally in the churches before baptism.||
In consequence of this, it is probable that it varied, in different
places, in words, though not in substance, and that some addi-
tions also have been made to it since its first employment.^" Af-
terwards, when copies in writing had been taken of it, they
were read before congregations as a part of the public wor-

"With these provisions, we may admit, I think, this Creed as
a monument, in some measure, of the faith of the first era of

* King's History of the Apostles' Creed, 4th ed., p. 25.

t Ibid. p. 30. Bingham's Antiq. of the Christian Church, vol. iv. p. 82.

\ Irenaeus, lib. i. c. 2. p. 45. Apud Dr. Priestley's History of Early Opin-
ions concerning Christ, vol. i. pp. 306, 307 ; see also Bingham's Antiquities,
vol iv. p. 84.

$ Dr. Priestley's Hist, of Early Opinions, vol. i. pp. 305, 308.

|| King's History of the Creed, p. 32.

IF Bingham's Antiquities, vol. iv. pp. 75, 82.

** King's History, p. 43.


** The Christian system," says Dr. Mosheim, " as it was hith-
erto taught, ( referring to the primitive age,) preserved its na-
tive and beautiful simplicity, and was comprehended in a small
number of articles. The public teachers inculcated no other
doctrines than those that are contained in what is commonly
called the Apostles' Creed; and in the method of illustrating
them, all vain subtleties, all mysterious researches, everything
that was beyond the reach of common capacities, were carefully
avoided. This will by no means appear surprising to those who
consider, that, at this time, there was not the least controversy
about those capital doctrines of Christianity which were after-
wards so keenly debated in the church ; and who reflect, that the
bishops of those primitive times were, for the most part, plain
and illiterate men, remarkable rather for their piety and zeal
than for their learning and eloquence."*

What, then, are the doctrines of the Apostles' Creed ? Are
we recommended by it to believe in a three-one God, God the
Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost? No: but in
God the Father only: '1 believe in God the Father Almigh-
ty, Maker of heaven and earth.' What are we to acknowledge
concerning Christ? that he was co-eternal with the Father? co-
equal with him? like him, Almighty, and the Maker of heaven
and earth? No: but we are instructed to believe '»n Jesus
Christ, his only Son, our Lord, tvho was conceived by the holy
ghost (spirit,) born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius
Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried, he descended into hell
(the grave,) the third day he arose again from the dead, he as-
cended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God, the
Father Almighty, from whence he shall come to judge the
quick and the dead' Are we taught in this Creed the divinity
of the Holy Ghost? No; for this portion of the Trinity is not
even mentioned as a person, but only as a thing, being classed
with a number of other things at the end of the Creed : '/ be-
lieve in the holy ghost (spirit,) the holy catholic (general) church,
the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection
of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.'

* Dr. Mosheim's Ecolesiastical History, rol. i. p. 183.

This form of faith is entirely silent about a Trinity in unity,
an incarnate deity, a union of opposite natures in Christ, or any
of those phrases and doctrines of Trinitarian divinity so common
and so fashionable in after times. It can only be regarded as
an Unitarian compilation, the work of an Unitarian age, n hen
men were yet ignorant of the mysteries and subtleties which
afterwards appeared."*

IT. It was soon found, when the leaders of the church began
to advance towards Trinitariahism, that the Apostles' Creed waa
insufficient to express the new opinions which began to be enter-
tained. Oilier forms, therefore, were afterwards drawn up, as
more aptly expressive of the growing sentiments of the times.
And though all of these were, ostensibly, only explanations! of
the Symbol (as the Apostles' Creed was distinctively called), J

*The Unitarianism of the Apostles' Creed has sometimes heen admitted
and lamented by Trinitarians. The following curious specimen is given by
Mr. Lindsey, in his a Apology for resigning the vicarage of Catterick iu
Yorkshire." It forms part of the angry criticism which some English and
Spanish Jesuits passed upon this Creed, and is translated from a Latin
work by AlpLonsus de Vargas, a Spaniard. "7 believe in the Holy Ghost.
This proposition is put with a bad design, and is deservedly suspected for
its affected brevity; for it craftily passes over in silence the divinity of tho
Holy Ghost, and his proceeding from the Father and the Son. Moreover, it
smells grievously of Anan heresy, covertly favours the schisms of the Greeks,
and destroys the undivided Trinity. And the whole of this exposition of
the divine and undivided Trinity, contained in these eight articles, [viz. the
Apostles' Creed so divided.) is defective and dangerous; for it takes tho
faithful off from the worship and reverence undividedly and inseparably to
be paid to the three Divine persons ; and under a pretence of brevity, and
making no unnecessary enlargement, it cunningly overthrows the who'e
mysterv of the Trinity, whereof the perfect and explicit belief is an indis-
pensable condition of salvation So that this whole doctrine [viz. the Apos-
tles' Creed], can hardly be looked upon as any other than a cheat, because
it makcth no mention of the divinity of the Son, or Holy Ghost, or their
eternity, but even intimates the contrary concerning the Son, in the third
article, viz. who was conceived of the Holy Ghost, lorn of the Virgin Mary.''
Lindsey's Apelogy, 4th edition, pp. 123—126.

t Judgement of the Fathers, p. 21, in vol- iii. of oldUnitarian tracts, A. D.

J King's History, p. 6. Bingham's Antiquities, vol. iv. p. 64.

we know from history, that much less importance was attached
to it than to them, they only being thought, as they successively
appeared, to be adequate representations of theology. The chief
of these instruments in the fourth century was the Creed now
known as the Nicene ; so called because the greater part of it
was drawn up by a general council held at Nice, in Bithynia*
A. D. 325,* The part of it which explains the divinity of the
Holy Ghost was added by a general council, held at Constanti-
nople, A. D. 381, f with the exception of the clause 'andths son,'
which the Latin church affixed to it in the ninth century. \ This
last clause the Greek church never adopted : she separated from
the Latin communion, among other reasons, on account of it, de-
nouncing its inventors and supporters as heretics. §

The Nicene Creed is semi- Trinitarian. It retains in part the
spirit of Unitarianism ; but in part it approaches the complex
Athanasian system. Its first article is an expressive testimony
to the supremacy of the Father; 'I believe in One God, the
Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and of all
things visible and invisible.' Yet immediately after, the divine
claims of another being are asserted, though not in such a way
as to imply equality with the One God, the Father, just descri-
bed : 'and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of
God ; begotten of his Father before all worlds ; God of (or from)
God ; Light of (or from) Light; Very Godof(orJrom)YERT
God.' That is to say, we are recommended by this Creed to
believe, after God the Father Almighty, in our Savior Jesus
Christ, who was God also in a secondary sense, as deriving his
birth in a peculiar manner from the Father, being God by der-
ivation from His substance, and light by participation of His
light. Still, in these expressions, equality, on the part of Christ,
with the Supreme Deity is not declared, either as to power or
glory. On the contrary, such phrases indicate the decided in-

* Mosheira. Ecc. Hist. vol. i. p. 414. Dr Jortin's Remarks on Zee. Hist
vol. ii. p. C5.

t l.Iosheim, vol i. p. 426. \ Jortin, vol. ill. p. 62.

\ Priestley's General Church History, vol. ix, of his works, pp. 1J5, 2 70i
ii 1 — 448. MosheLm, vol. ii. pp. 353, 354.


feriority of the Son of God to his Father, and his entire depen-
dence on Him, a3 on the self-existent Deity, the great first cause •
of all things.

But perhaps it may he thought, that equality was meant to he
included in the phrase, '■of one substance with the Father.' To
this I answer, that many acute reasoners have otherwise under- ■
stood this expression ; allowing, indeed, that it implied a parity,
of nature, but not the possession, to the full extent, of the attrib-
utes of Deity. It has been frequently admitted, that the mem-
bers of the Nicene council, in making use of this phrase, just,
signified their belief that Christ partook of the substance or «a-.
ture of his Father, as any child partakes of the substance or na-
ture of his parents.* But do sons in general, because they par-
take of the substance of their fathers, possess, in consequence the
same stature, amount of health, degree of understanding, man-
ners, and condition? If not, in what way is it certain that the
members of the Nicene council thought that Christ, as a son, of
the same substance with God was therefore placed on a perfect
equality with Him ? That they held a contrary opinion would
be manifest from an examination of their writings.

A profound silence was maintained in the council of Xice con-
cerning the divinity of the Holy Spirit ; which probably arose
from this circumstance, that the church was not then prepared,-
or even a considerable party in it, to decide v,'hat precise dignity
this third person was entitled to. The Spirit, indeed, not long
after the Son, had been mentioned by theologians as a divine
person, making part of a Trinity. But a considerable variety of
opinion seems to have been entertained on this subject, and cer-
tainly less importance was attached for a long time to the Spirit
than to Christ. Afterwards, when the ecclesiastical authorities
became more bold, they added at Constantinople (A. D. 381.)
the clause which we find in the present copy of the Creed, char-
acterizing the Holy Ghost as 'the Lord and Giver of life ; who
proceedeth from the Father ; who with the Father and Son to-

*Jortin, vol. ii. pp. 55, 56. Ben Mordecai's Apology (by the Rev. H.
Taylor, vicar of Portsmouth), Letter I. p. 32, &c.


gether is worshipped and glorified ; who spake by (he prophets.'
The Nicene Creed has sometimes been called Arian, even
though expressly written in opposition to Arius at the instiga-
tion of Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, prompted by his secre-
tary, the celebrated Athanasius.* Yet this impropriety of lan-
guage may be excused, if we consider how little the Nicene
Creed differs from the opinions which Arius entertained. In
truth, Arius and his opponent Athanasius had not much reason
to quarrel, for their tenets were not so at variance as is common-
ly supposed. Both had departed far enough from primitive
simplicity of doctrine. Both, at the same time, were yet at a
considerable distance from Trinitarianism in its finished state*
"What was the subject of contention between them? Arius and
Athanasius agreed that Christ was a powerful Divine Being, to
whom the honours and title of God were, in some sense, due ;
but they disputed about the manner in which the Being came
into life. It was thought by Arius that Christ was produced
out of nothing, by creation ;f while Athanasius maintained that
he sprang from the substance of God, by some kind of generation^
though not so as to imply (as indeed how could it?) equality
with God. And on this nice question, so practically unimpor-
tant, the body of the Christian church, in the fourth century, di-

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Online LibraryJames ForrestSome account of the origin and progress of trinitarian theology : in the second, third, and succeeding centuries, and of the manner in which its doctrines gradually supplanted the unitarianism of the primitive church; compiled from the works of various theological and historical writers → online text (page 1 of 11)