Tertullian and the Doctrine of the Trinity

Refuting the Misrepresentation of this Church Writer’s Views

As I noted in a previous post (https://answeringislamblog.wordpress.com/2018/11/02/were-the-early-church-fathers-trinitarians/), Muslims have started a recent trend where they now seek to prove that the ante-Nicene fathers, i.e., the Christian apologists and theologians that wrote before the council of Nicaea, were not Trinitarians in the orthodox sense. These Muhammadans claim that early Christians such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus etc., were subordinations who thought that the Son and the Spirit were lesser, inferior divinities to the Father.

In this post I am going to provide further evidence that this is a gross misrepresentation of what these great men of the Church actually believed. It will become apparent that these Islamic polemicists are simply parroting what they have read or heard from others without understanding the actual context of the early church fathers’ writings.

This can be readily seen from their misuse of the term subordination(ism), which they like to throw around at unsuspecting Christians. These polemicists assume that the fathers were subordinations in the sense of believing that the Son and the Spirit are ontologically subordinate to the Father. In other words, they take the term to mean that the early Christians did not think that the Son and the Holy Spirit are equal to the Father in substance, but rather taught that the Father is superior to the Son and the Spirit in terms of power, essence, glory etc.

This only exposes their ignorance, if not their outright dishonesty, since these fathers did not hold to the Son and Spirit being ontologically inferior to the Father, since they expressly taught that the Son and Spirit are one substance with the Father. Rather, by subordination they meant that the Son and the Spirit are subject to the Father in terms of their authority since the Father is the eternal source of the Son’s and Spirit’s uncreated divine essence, since it is his very own substance which the Son and Spirit eternally and inseparably share and partake in. Therefore, how could the Son and the Spirit be inferior to the Father in nature when it is the very same essence of the Father that they both fully and eternally possess?

In this specific post I am going to prove all this by quoting from the writings of Tertullian, who happens to be one of the early apologists misrepresented by these Muslim polemicists. As I am going to show, Tertullian believed that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit all exist as the one God, and that all three Persons were equal in substance. Tertullian also believed that Christ and the Holy Spirit are uncreated, having eternally existed within and with God.

However, it must be stressed that Tertullian did not believe that Christ eternally existed as the Son, but became the Son when God emitted him, or brought him forth, from within his own Being to become the Agent of creation. Tertullian thought that Christ eternally existed in God’s mind as God’s own Reason. According to Terullian this Reason is God’s Thought, which the Greeks called Logos, and this is the Reason that God conversed with when he conserved within himself, and who then came forth as the Word of God which God employed to bring the entire creation into existence. It is at that moment when God uttered his Word from his own Reason before creation that God’s uncreated Reason became the Son of God.

Therefore, even though Tertullian’s view of how the eternal Person of Christ became God’s Son at a moment prior to the creation of all things was not the way later Christians would articulate Christ’s Sonship, he was still, nonetheless, thoroughly orthodox in that he did not believe that the Son and the Spirit were created from nothing. Rather, like all true Christians Tertullian believed and affirmed that Christ and the Holy Spirit proceed from God’s very own eternal Being and therefore have eternally existed with God, being inseparable from God’s very own uncreated substance.

With that said I now proceed to directly cite from Tertullian’s writings, with special emphasis on his refutation to the heretic Praxeus who taught that the Father, Son and Spirit are all one and the selfsame Person. All bold, capital and/or underline emphasis will be mine.

APOLOGY (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0301.htm)

Chapter 21

“… And we, in like manner, hold that the Word, and Reason, and Power, by which we have said God made all, have spirit as their proper and essential substratum, in which the Word has in being to give forth utterances, and reason abides to dispose and arrange, and power is over all to execute. We have been taught that He proceeds forth from God, and in that procession He is generated; so that He is the Son of God, and is called God FROM UNITY OF SUBSTANCE with God. For God, too, is a Spirit. Even when the ray is shot from the sun, it is still part of the parent mass; the sun will still be in the ray, because it is a ray of the sun — there is no division of substance, but merely an extension. Thus Christ is Spirit of Spirit, and GOD OF GOD, as light of light is kindled. The material matrix remains entire and unimpaired, though you derive from it any number of shoots possessed of its qualities; so, too, that which has come forth out of God is at once God and the Son of God, and THE TWO ARE ONE. In this way also, as He is Spirit of Spirit and GOD OF GOD, He is made a second in manner of existence— in position, not in nature; and He did not withdraw from the original source, but went forth. This ray of God, then, as it was always foretold in ancient times, descending into a certain virgin, and made flesh in her womb, is in His birth God and man united. The flesh formed by the Spirit is nourished, grows up to manhood, speaks, teaches, works, and is the Christ…”

AGAINST PRAXEUS (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0317.htm)

Chapter 2. The Catholic Doctrine of the Trinity and Unity, Sometimes Called the Divine Economy, or Dispensation of the Personal Relations of the Godhead

In the course of time, then, the Father forsooth was born, and the Father suffered, God Himself, the Lord Almighty, whom in their preaching they declare to be Jesus Christ. We, however, as we indeed always have done (and more especially since we have been better instructed by the Paraclete, who leads men indeed into all truth), believe that there is one only God, but under the following dispensation, or οἰκονομία, as it is called, that this one only God has also a Son, His Word, WHO PROCEEDED FROM HIMSELF, by whom all things were made, and without whom nothing was made. Him we believe to have been sent by the Father into the Virgin, and to have been born of her — BEING BOTH MAN AND GOD, the Son of Man AND THE SON OF GOD, and to have been called by the name of Jesus Christ; we believe Him to have suffered, died, and been buried, according to the Scriptures, and, after He had been raised again by the Father and taken back to heaven, to be sitting at the right hand of the Father, and that He will come to judge the quick and the dead; who sent also from heaven from the Father, according to His own promise, the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete, the sanctifier of the faith of those who believe in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Ghost. That this rule of faith has come down to us from the beginning of the gospel, even before any of the older heretics, much more before Praxeas, a pretender of yesterday, will be apparent both from the lateness of date which marks all heresies, and also from the absolutely novel character of our new-fangled Praxeas. In this principle also we must henceforth find a presumption of equal force against all heresies whatsoever — that whatever is first is true, whereas that is spurious which is later in date. But keeping this prescriptive rule inviolate, still some opportunity must be given for reviewing (the statements of heretics), with a view to the instruction and protection of various persons; were it only that it may not seem that each perversion of the truth is condemned without examination, and simply prejudged; especially in the case of this heresy, which supposes itself to possess the pure truth, in thinking that one cannot believe in One Only God in any other way than by saying that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are the very selfsame Person. As if in this way also one were not All, in that All are of One, BY UNITY OF SUBSTANCE; while the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded, which distributes the Unity into a Trinity, placing in their order the three Persons— the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: three, however, not in condition, but in degree; not in substance, but in form; not in power, but in aspect; YET OF ONE SUBSTANCE, and of one condition, and of one power, inasmuch as He is one God, from whom these degrees and forms and aspects are reckoned, under the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. How they are susceptible of number without division, will be shown as our treatise proceeds.

Chapter 4. The Unity of the Godhead and the Supremacy and Sole Government of the Divine Being. The Monarchy Not at All Impaired by the Catholic Doctrine

But as for me, who derive the Son from no other source BUT FROM THE SUBSTANCE OF THE FATHER, and (represent Him) as doing nothing without the Father’s will, and as having received all power from the Father, how can I be possibly destroying the Monarchy from the faith, when I preserve it in the Son just as it was committed to Him by the Father? The same remark (I wish also to be formally) made by me with respect to the third degree in the Godhead, because I believe the Spirit to proceed from no other source than FROM THE FATHER THROUGH THE SON. Look to it then, that it be not you rather who are destroying the Monarchy, when you overthrow the arrangement and dispensation of it, which has been constituted in just as many names as it has pleased God to employ. But it remains so firm and stable in its own state, notwithstanding the introduction into it of the Trinity, that the Son actually has to restore it entire to the Father; even as the apostle says in his epistle, concerning the very end of all: When He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; for He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet; 1 Corinthians 15:24-25 following of course the words of the Psalm: Sit on my right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool. When, however, all things shall be subdued to Him, (with the exception of Him who did put all things under Him,) then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all. 1 Corinthians 15:27-28 We thus see that the Son is no obstacle to the Monarchy, although it is now administered by the Son; because with the Son it is still in its own state, and with its own state will be restored to the Father by the Son. No one, therefore, will impair it, on account of admitting the Son (to it), since it is certain that it has been committed to Him by the Father, and by and by has to be again delivered up by Him to the Father. Now, from this one passage of the epistle of the inspired apostle, we have been already able to show that the Father and the Son are two separate Persons, not only by the mention of their separate names as Father and the Son, but also by the fact that He who delivered up the kingdom, and He to whom it is delivered up — and in like manner, He who subjected (all things), and He to whom they were subjected — must necessarily be two different Beings.

Chapter 5. The Evolution of the Son or Word of God from the Father by a Divine Procession. Illustrated by the Operation of the Human Thought and Consciousness

But since they will have the Two to be but One, so that the Father shall be deemed to be the same as the Son, it is only right that the whole question respecting the Son should be examined, as to whether He exists, and who He is and the mode of His existence. Thus shall the truth itself secure its own sanction from the Scriptures, and the interpretations which guard them. There are some who allege that even Genesis opens thus in Hebrew: In the beginning God made for Himself a Son. As there is no ground for this, I am led to other arguments derived from God’s own dispensation, in which He existed before the creation of the world, up to the generation of the Son. For before all things God was alone — being in Himself and for Himself universe, and space, and all things. Moreover, He was alone, because there was nothing external to Him but Himself. YET EVEN NOT THEN WAS HE ALONE; FOR HE HAD WITH HIM THAT WHICH HE POSSESSED IN HIMSELF, that is to say, HIS OWN REASON. For God is rational, and Reason was first in Him; and so all things were from Himself. This Reason is His own Thought (or Consciousness) which the Greeks call λόγος, by which term we also designate Word or Discourse and therefore it is now usual with our people, owing to the mere simple interpretation of the term, to say that the Word was in the beginning with God; although it would be more suitable to regard Reason as the more ancient; because God had not Word from the beginning, but He had Reason even before the beginning; because also Word itself consists of Reason, which it thus proves to have been the prior existence as being its own substance. Not that this distinction is of any practical moment. For although God had not yet sent out His Word, He still had Him within Himself, both in company with and included within His very Reason, as He silently planned and arranged within Himself everything which He was afterwards about to utter through His Word. Now, while He was thus planning and arranging with His own Reason, HE WAS ACTUALLY CAUSING THAT TO BECOME WORD which He was dealing with in the way of Word or Discourse. And that you may the more readily understand this, consider first of all, from your own self, who are made in the image and likeness of God, Genesis 1:26 for what purpose it is that you also possess reason in yourself, who are a rational creature, as being not only made by a rational Artificer, but actually animated out of His substance. Observe, then, that when you are silently conversing with yourself, this very process is carried on within you by your reason, which meets you with a word at every movement of your thought, at every impulse of your conception. Whatever you think, there is a word; whatever you conceive, there is reason. You must needs speak it in your mind; and while you are speaking, you admit speech as an interlocutor with you, involved in which there is this very reason, whereby, while in thought you are holding converse with your word, you are (by reciprocal action) producing thought by means of that converse with your word. Thus, in a certain sense, the word is a second person within you, through which in thinking you utter speech, and through which also, (by reciprocity of process,) in uttering speech you generate thought. The word is itself a different thing from yourself. Now how much more fully is all this transacted in God, whose image and likeness even you are regarded as being, inasmuch as He has reason within Himself even while He is silent, and involved in that Reason His Word! I may therefore without rashness first lay this down (as a fixed principle) that even then before the creation of the universe GOD WAS NOT ALONE, since He had within Himself both Reason, and, inherent in Reason, His Word, which He made second to Himself by agitating it within Himself.

Chapter 6. The Word of God is Also the Wisdom of God. The Going Forth of Wisdom to Create the Universe, According to the Divine Plan

This power and disposition of the Divine Intelligence is set forth also in the Scriptures under the name of Σοφία, Wisdom; for what can be better entitled to the name of Wisdom than THE REASON or the Word of God? Listen therefore to Wisdom herself, constituted in the character of a Second Person: At the first the Lord created me as the beginning of His ways, with a view to His own works, before He made the earth, before the mountains were settled; moreover, before all the hills did He beget me; Proverbs 8:22-25 that is to say, He created and generated me in His own intelligence. Then, again, observe the distinction between them implied in the companionship of Wisdom with the Lord. When He prepared the heaven, says Wisdom, I was present with Him; and when He made His strong places upon the winds, which are the clouds above; and when He secured the fountains, (and all things) which are beneath the sky, I was by, arranging all things with Him; I was by, in whom He delighted; and daily, too, did I rejoice in His presence. Proverbs 8:27-30 Now, as soon as it pleased God to put forth into their respective substances and forms the things which He had planned and ordered within Himself, in conjunction with His Wisdom’s Reason and Word, He first put forth the Word Himself, having WITHIN HIM HIS OWN INSEPARABLE REASON AND WISDOM, in order that all things might be made through Him through whom they had been planned and disposed, yea, and already made, so far forth as (they were) in the mind and intelligence of God. This, however, was still wanting to them, that they should also be openly known, and kept permanently in their proper forms and substances.

Chapter 7. The Son by Being Designated Word and Wisdom, (According to the Imperfection of Human Thought and Language) Liable to Be Deemed a Mere Attribute. He is Shown to Be a Personal Being

Then, therefore, does the Word also Himself assume His own form and glorious garb, His own sound and vocal utterance, when God says, Let there be light. Genesis 1:3 This is the perfect nativity of the Word, WHEN HE PROCEEDS FORTH FROM GOD— formed by Him first to devise and think out all things under the name of Wisdom — The Lord created or formed me as the beginning of His ways; Proverbs 8:22 then afterward begotten, to carry all into effect — When He prepared the heaven, I was present with Him. Thus does He make Him equal to Him: FOR BY PROCEEDING FROM HIMSELF He became His first-begotten Son, because begotten before all things; Colossians 1:15 and His only-begotten also, because alone begotten of God, in a way peculiar to Himself, FROM THE WOMB OF HIS OWN HEART — even as the Father Himself testifies: My heart, says He, has emitted my most excellent Word. The Father took pleasure evermore in Him, who equally rejoiced with a reciprocal gladness in the Father’s presence: You are my Son, today have I begotten You; even before the morning star did I beget You. The Son likewise acknowledges the Father, speaking in His own person, under the name of Wisdom: The Lord formed Me as the beginning of His ways, with a view to His own works; before all the hills did He beget Me. For if indeed Wisdom in this passage seems to say that She was created by the Lord with a view to His works, and to accomplish His ways, yet proof is given in another Scripture that all things were made by the Word, and without Him was there nothing made; John 1:3 as, again, in another place (it is said), By His word were the heavens established, and all the powers thereof by His Spiritthat is to say, by the Spirit (or Divine Nature) which was in the Word: thus is it evident that it is one and the same power which is in one place described under the name of Wisdom, and in another passage under the appellation of the Word, which was initiated for the works of God Proverbs 8:22 which strengthened the heavens; by which all things were made, John 1:3 and without which nothing was made. John 1:3 Nor need we dwell any longer on this point, as if it were not the very Word Himself, who is spoken of under the name both of Wisdom AND OF REASON, and of the entire Divine Soul and Spirit. He became also the Son of God, and was begotten WHEN HE PROCEEDED FORTH FROM HIM. Do you then, (you ask,) grant that the Word is a certain substance, constructed by the Spirit and the communication of Wisdom? Certainly I do. But you will not allow Him to be really a substantive being, by having a substance of His own; in such a way that He may be regarded as an objective thing and a person, and so be able (as being constituted second to God the Father,) to make two, the Father and the Son, GOD and the Word. For you will say, what is a word, but a voice and sound of the mouth, and (as the grammarians teach) air when struck against, intelligible to the ear, but for the rest a sort of void, empty, and incorporeal thing. I, on the contrary, contend that nothing empty and void could have come forth from God, seeing that it is not put forth from that which is empty and void; nor could that possibly be devoid of substance which has proceeded from so great a substance, and has produced such mighty substances: for all things which were made through Him, He Himself (personally) made. How could it be, that He Himself is nothing, without whom nothing was made? How could He who is empty have made things which are solid, and He who is void have made things which are full, and He who is incorporeal have made things which have body? For although a thing may sometimes be made different from him by whom it is made, yet nothing can be made by that which is a void and empty thing. Is that Word of God, then, a void and empty thing, which is called the Son, who Himself IS DESIGNATED GOD? The Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1 It is written, You shall not take God’s name in vain. Exodus 20:7 This for certain is He who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God. Philippians 2:6 In what form of God? Of course he means in some form, not in none. For who will deny that God is a body, although God is a Spirit? John 4:24 For Spirit has a bodily substance of its own kind, in its own form. Now, even if invisible things, whatsoever they be, have both their substance and their form in God, whereby they are visible to God alone, how much more shall that which has been sent forth FROM HIS SUBSTANCE not be without substance! Whatever, therefore, was the substance of the Word that I designate a Person, I claim for it the name of Son; and while I recognize the Son, I assert His distinction as second to the Father.

Chapter 12. Other Quotations from Holy Scripture Adduced in Proof of the Plurality of Persons in the Godhead

If the number of the Trinity also offends you, as if it were not connected in the simple Unity, I ask you how it is possible for a Being who is merely and absolutely One and Singular, to speak in plural phrase, saying, Let us make man in our own image, and after our own likeness; Genesis 1:26 whereas He ought to have said, Let me make man in my own image, and after my own likeness, as being a unique and singular Being? In the following passage, however, Behold the man has become as one of us, Genesis 3:22 He is either deceiving or amusing us in speaking plurally, if He is One only and singular. Or was it to the angels that He spoke, as the Jews interpret the passage, because these also acknowledge not the Son? Or was it because He was at once the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, that He spoke to Himself in plural terms, making Himself plural on that very account? Nay, it was because He had already His Son close at His side, as a second Person, His own Word, and a third Person also, the Spirit in the Word, that He purposely adopted the plural phrase, Let us make; and, in our image; and, become as one of us. For with whom did He make man? And to whom did He make him like? (The answer must be), the Son on the one hand, who was one day to put on human nature; and the Spirit on the other, who was to sanctify man. With these did He then speak, in the Unity of the Trinity, as with His ministers and witnesses. In the following text also He distinguishes among the Persons: So God created man in His own image; in the image of God created He him. Genesis 1:27 Why say image of God? Why not His own image merely, if He was only one who was the Maker, and if there was not also One in whose image He made man? But there was One in whose image God was making man, that is to say, Christ’s image, who, being one day about to become Man (more surely and more truly so), had already caused the man to be called His image, who was then going to be formed of clay — the image and similitude of the true and perfect Man. But in respect of the previous works of the world what says the Scripture? Its first statement indeed is made, when the Son has not yet appeared: And God said, Let there be light, and there was light. Genesis 1:3 Immediately there appears the Word, that true light, which lights man on his coming into the world, John 1:9 and through Him also came light upon the world. From that moment God willed creation to be effected in the Word, Christ being present and ministering unto Him: and so God created. And God said, Let there be a firmament,and God made the firmament; Genesis 1:6-7 and God also said, Let there be lights (in the firmament); and so God made a greater and a lesser light. But all the rest of the created things did He in like manner make, who made the former ones — I mean the Word of God, through whom all things were made, and without whom nothing was made. John 1:3 Now if He too is God, according to John, (who says,) The Word was God, John 1:1 then you have two Beings — One that commands that the thing be made, and the Other that executes the order and creates. In what sense, however, you ought to understand Him to be another, I have already explained, on the ground of Personality, NOT OF SUBSTANCE — in the way of distinction, not of division. But although I must everywhere hold ONE ONLY SUBSTANCE IN THREE COHERENT AND INSEPARABLE (Persons), yet I am bound to acknowledge, from the necessity of the case, that He who issues a command is different from Him who executes it. For, indeed, He would not be issuing a command if He were all the while doing the work Himself, while ordering it to be done by the second. But still He did issue the command, although He would not have intended to command Himself if He were only one; or else He must have worked without any command, because He would not have waited to command Himself.

Chapter 13. The Force of Sundry Passages of Scripture Illustrated in Relation to the Plurality of Persons and Unity of Substance. There is No Polytheism Here, Since the Unity is Insisted on as a Remedy Against Polytheism

Well then, you reply, if He was God who spoke, and He was also God who created, at this rate, one God spoke and another created; (and thus) two Gods are declared. If you are so venturesome and harsh, reflect a while; and that you may think the better and more deliberately, listen to the psalm in which Two are described as God: Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever; the sceptre of Your kingdom is a sceptre of righteousness. You have loved righteousness, and hated iniquity: therefore God, even Your God, has anointed You or made You His Christ. Now, since He here speaks to God, and affirms that God is anointed by God, He must have affirmed that Two are God, by reason of the sceptre’s royal power. Accordingly, Isaiah also says to the Person of Christ: The Sabæans, men of stature, shall pass over to You; and they shall follow after You, bound in fetters; and they shall worship You, because God is in You: for You are our God, yet we knew it not; You are the God of Israel. For here too, by saying, God is in You, and You are God, he sets forth Two who were God: (in the former expression in You, he means) in Christ, and (in the other he means) the Holy Ghost. That is a still grander statement which you will find expressly made in the Gospel: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1 There was One who was, and there was another with whom He was. But I find in Scripture the name Lord also applied to them Both: The Lord said to my Lord, Sit on my right hand. And Isaiah says this: Lord, who has believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? Isaiah 53:1 Now he would most certainly have said Your Arm, if he had not wished us to understand that the Father is Lord, and the Son also is Lord. A much more ancient testimony we have also in Genesis: Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrha brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven. Genesis 19:24 Now, either deny that this is Scripture; or else (let me ask) what sort of man you are, that you do not think words ought to be taken and understood in the sense in which they are written, especially when they are not expressed in allegories and parables, but in determinate and simple declarations? If, indeed, you follow those who did not at the time endure the Lord when showing Himself to be the Son of God, because they would not believe Him to be the Lord, then (I ask you) call to mind along with them the passage where it is written, I have said, You are gods, and you are children of the Most High; and again, God stands in the congregation of gods; in order that, if the Scripture has not been afraid to designate as gods human beings, who have become sons of God by faith, you may be sure that the same Scripture has with greater propriety conferred the name of the Lord on the true and one only Son of God. Very well! You say, I shall challenge you to preach from this day forth (and that, too, on the authority of these same Scriptures) two Gods and two Lords, consistently with your views. God forbid, (is my reply). For we, who by the grace of God possess an insight into both the times and the occasions of the Sacred Writings, especially we who are followers of the Paraclete, not of human teachers, do indeed definitively declare that Two Beings are God, the Father and the Son, and, with the addition of the Holy Spirit, even Three, according to the principle of the divine economy, which introduces number, in order that the Father may not, as you perversely infer, be Himself believed to have been born and to have suffered, which it is not lawful to believe, forasmuch as it has not been so handed down. That there are, however, two Gods or two Lords, is a statement which at no time proceeds out of our mouth: not as if it were untrue that the Father is God, and the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God, and each is God; but because in earlier times Two were actually spoken of as God, and two as Lord, that when Christ should come He might be both acknowledged as God and designated as Lord, being the Son of Him who is both God and Lord. Now, if there were found in the Scriptures but one Personality of Him who is God and Lord, Christ would justly enough be inadmissible to the title of God and Lord: for (in the Scriptures) there was declared to be none other than One God and One Lord, and it must have followed that the Father should Himself seem to have come down (to earth), inasmuch as only One God and One Lord was ever read of (in the Scriptures), and His entire Economy would be involved in obscurity, which has been planned and arranged with so clear a foresight in His providential dispensation as matter for our faith. As soon, however, as Christ came, and was recognised by us as the very Being who had from the beginning caused plurality (in the Divine Economy), being the second from the Father, and with the Spirit the third, and Himself declaring and manifesting the Father more fully (than He had ever been before), the title of Him who is God and Lord was at once restored to the Unity (of the Divine Nature), even because the Gentiles would have to pass from the multitude of their idols to the One Only God, in order that a difference might be distinctly settled between the worshippers of One God and the votaries of polytheism. For it was only right that Christians should shine in the world as children of light, adoring and invoking Him who is the One God and Lord as the light of the world. Besides, if, from that perfect knowledge which assures us that the title of God and Lord is suitable both to the Father, and to the Son, AND TO THE HOLY GHOST, we were to invoke a plurality of gods and lords, we should quench our torches, and we should become less courageous to endure the martyr’s sufferings, from which an easy escape would everywhere lie open to us, as soon as we swore by a plurality of gods and lords, as sundry heretics do, who hold more gods than One. I will therefore not speak of gods at all, nor of lords, but I shall follow the apostle; so that if the Father and the Son, are alike to be invoked, I shall call the Father God, and invoke Jesus Christ as Lord. Romans 1:7 But when Christ alone (is mentioned), I shall be able to call Him God, as the same apostle says: Of whom is Christ, who is over all, God blessed forever. Romans 9:5 For I should give the name of sun even to a sunbeam, considered in itself; but if I were mentioning the sun from which the ray emanates, I certainly should at once withdraw the name of sun from the mere beam. For although I make not two suns, still I shall reckon both the sun and its ray to be as much two things and two forms OF ONE UNDIVIDED SUBSTANCE, AS GOD AND HIS WORD, AS THE FATHER AND THE SON.

Chapter 25. The Paraclete, or Holy Ghost. He is Distinct from the Father and the Son as to Their Personal Existence. One and Inseparable from Them as to Their Divine Nature. Other Quotations Out of St. John’s Gospel

What follows Philip’s question, and the Lord’s whole treatment of it, to the end of John’s Gospel, continues to furnish us with statements of the same kind, distinguishing the Father and the Son, with the properties of each. Then there is the Paraclete or Comforter, also, which He promises to pray for to the Father, and to send from heaven after He had ascended to the Father. He is called another Comforter, indeed; John 14:16 but in what way He is another we have already shown, He shall receive of mine, says Christ, John 16:14 just as Christ Himself received of the Father’s. Thus the connection of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Paraclete, produces three coherent Persons, who are yet distinct One from Another. These Three ARE ONE ESSENCE, NOT ONE PERSON, as it is said, I and my Father are One, John 10:30 in respect of UNITY OF SUBSTANCE not singularity of number. Run through the whole Gospel, and you will find that He whom you believe to be the Father (described as acting for the Father, although you, for your part, forsooth, suppose that the Father, being the husbandman, John 15:1 must surely have been on earth) is once more recognised by the Son as in heaven, when, lifting up His eyes thereto, John 17:1 He commended His disciples to the safe-keeping of the Father. John 17:11 We have, moreover, in that other Gospel a clear revelation, i.e. of the Son’s distinction from the Father, My God, why have You forsaken me? Matthew 27:46 and again, (in the third Gospel,) Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit. Luke 23:46 But even if (we had not these passages, we meet with satisfactory evidence) after His resurrection and glorious victory over death. Now that all the restraint of His humiliation is taken away, He might, if possible, have shown Himself as the Father to so faithful a woman (as Mary Magdalene) when she approached to touch Him, out of love, not from curiosity, nor with Thomas’ incredulity. But not so; Jesus says unto her, Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father; but go to my brethren (and even in this He proves Himself to be the Son; for if He had been the Father, He would have called them His children, (instead of His brethren), and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God. John 20:17 Now, does this mean, I ascend as the Father to the Father, and as God to God? Or as the Son to the Father, and as the Word to God? Wherefore also does this Gospel, at its very termination, intimate that these things were ever written, if it be not, to use its own words, that you might believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? John 20:31 Whenever, therefore, you take any of the statements of this Gospel, and apply them to demonstrate the identity of the Father and the Son, supposing that they serve your views therein, you are contending against the definite purpose of the Gospel. For these things certainly are not written that you may believe that Jesus Christ is the Father, but the Son.

Chapter 26. A Brief Reference to the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke. Their Agreement with St. John, in Respect to the Distinct Personality of the Father and the Son

In addition to Philip’s conversation, and the Lord’s reply to it, the reader will observe that we have run through John’s Gospel to show that many other passages of a clear purport, both before and after that chapter, are only in strict accord with that single and prominent statement, which must be interpreted agreeably to all other places, rather than in opposition to them, and indeed to its own inherent and natural sense. I will not here largely use the support of the other Gospels, which confirm our belief by the Lord’s nativity: it is sufficient to remark that He who had to be born of a virgin is announced in express terms by the angel himself as the Son of God: The Spirit of God shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you; therefore also the Holy Thing that shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God. Luke 1:35 On this passage even they will wish to raise a cavil; but truth will prevail. Of course, they say, the Son of God is God, and the power of the highest is the Most High. And they do not hesitate to insinuate what, if it had been true, would have been written. Whom was he so afraid of as not plainly to declare, God shall come upon you, and the Highest shall overshadow you? Now, by saying the Spirit of God (although the Spirit of God IS GOD,) and by not directly naming God, he wished that portion of the whole Godhead to be understood, which was about to retire into the designation of the Son. The Spirit of God in this passage must be the same as the Word. For just as, when John says, The Word was made flesh, John 1:14 we understand the Spirit also in the mention of the Word: so here, too, we acknowledge the Word likewise in the name of the Spirit. For both the Spirit is the substance of the Word, and the Word is the operation of the Spirit, and the Two are One (and the same). Now John must mean One when he speaks of Him as having been made flesh, and the angel Another when he announces Him as about to be born, if the Spirit is not the Word, and the Word the Spirit. For just as the Word of God is not actually He whose Word He is, so also the Spirit (ALTHOUGH HE IS CALLED GOD) is not actually He whose Spirit He is said to be. Nothing which belongs to something else is actually the very same thing as that to which it belongs. Clearly, when anything proceeds from a personal subject, and so belongs to him, since it comes from him, it may possibly be such in quality exactly as the personal subject himself is from whom it proceeds, and to whom it belongs. And thus THE SPIRIT IS GOD, AND THE WORD IS GOD, is God, because proceeding from God, but yet is not actually the very same as He from whom He proceeds. Now that which is God of God, although He is an actually existing thing, yet He cannot be God Himself (exclusively), but so far God as He is OF THE SAME SUBSTANCE as God Himself, and as being an actually existing thing, and as a portion of the Whole. Much more will the power of the Highest not be the Highest Himself, because It is not an actually existing thing, as being Spirit — in the same way as the wisdom (of God) and the providence (of God) is not God: these attributes are not substances, but the accidents of the particular substance. Power is incidental to the Spirit, but cannot itself be the Spirit. These things, therefore, whatsoever they are — (I mean) the Spirit of God, and the Word and the Power — having been conferred on the Virgin, that which is born of her is the Son of God. This He Himself, in those other Gospels also, testifies Himself to have been from His very boyhood: Did you not know, says He, that I must be about my Father’s business? Luke 2:49 Satan likewise knew Him to be this in his temptations: Since You are the Son of God. This, accordingly, the devils also acknowledge Him to be: we know You, who You are, the Holy Son of God. His Father He Himself adores. When acknowledged by Peter as the Christ (the Son) of God, Matthew 16:17 He does not deny the relation. He exults in spirit when He says to the Father, I thank You, O Father, because You have hid these things from the wise and prudent. Matthew 11:25 He, moreover, affirms also that to no man is the Father known, but to His Son; and promises that, as the Son of the Father, He will confess those who confess Him, and deny those who deny Him, before His Father. Matthew 10:32-33 He also introduces a parable of the mission to the vineyard of the Son (not the Father), who was sent after so many servants, Matthew 21:33-41 and slain by the husbandmen, and avenged by the Father. He is also ignorant of the last day and hour, which is known to the Father only. Matthew 24:36 He awards the kingdom to His disciples, as He says it had been appointed to Himself by the Father. Luke 22:29 He has power to ask, if He will, legions of angels from the Father for His help. Matthew 26:53 He exclaims that God had forsaken Him. Matthew 27:46 He commends His spirit into the hands of the Father. Luke 23:46 After His resurrection He promises in a pledge to His disciples that He will send them the promise of His Father; Luke 24:49 and lastly, He commands them to baptize into the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, not into a unipersonal God. And indeed it is not once only, but three times, that we are immersed into the Three Persons, at each several mention of Their names.

Further Reading

Ignatius of Antioch’s Proclamation of the Essential Deity of Christ

Origen’s Christology

Justin Martyr’s Witness to Christ’s essential and eternal Deity

Were the Early Church Fathers Trinitarians?

Did the Ante-Nicene Fathers Worship the Holy Spirit as God Almighty?

23 thoughts on “Tertullian and the Doctrine of the Trinity

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