Author: Marmarinta Umar P Mababaya
Are you aware of the historical controversy between the Trinitarian and the Unitarian doctrines? Are you also aware that Islam offers the ultimate solution to such controversy?
The Trinitarian controversy is one of the most crucial events in the annals of Christendom. World renown Christian historian Edward Gibbon points out that the Trinitarian controversy, which raged particularly during the fourth century, has successfully penetrated every part of the Christian world (1).
On one hand, the Pauline Church (currently known as the Roman Catholic Church) has for centuries fought for the global acceptance of the Trinitarian doctrine. The concept of Trinity is the nucleus of the Athanasian Creed which stats that:
"There is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the father, of the son, and of the holy ghost is one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.The father is god, the son if god, and the holy ghost is god. And yet they are not three gods, but one god. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every person by himself to be god and lord, so we are forbidden by the catholic religion to say there are three gods, or three lords." (2)
The nature of this creed has for centuries been so controversial and mysterious that even its own author, Anthanasius of Alexandria, one of the principal leaders of the Pauline church, failed to comprehend it. The champion of the trinity himself confessed:
"Wherever he forced his understanding to mediate on the divinity of the Logos, his toilsome and unavailing efforts recoiled on themselves; that the more he thought, the less he comprehended; and the more he wrote, the less capable was he of expressing his thoughts." (3)
The nature of the trinity is so mysterious that, as Edward Gibbon remarks:
"...as often as we deduce any positive conclusions from a negative idea, we are involved in darkness, perplexity and inevitable contradiction." (4)
On the other hand, the Apostolic Church has over the years advocated the belief in the Unity of God, and as such ruled out the deity of Jesus (pbuh). Among those who originally opposed the Trinitarian doctrine were the so called EBIONITES OF NAZARENES. They considered Jesus as the greatest of the Prophets, endowed with supernatural virtues and power. (5)
The mysteries of the Christian faith were dangerously exposed to public debate when Arius, the champion of the Apostolic Church, popularly confronted Bishop Alexander, the champion of the Pauline Church. These two were in hot theological dispute for a period of six years - from 318 AD through 325 AD. Arius the disciple of Lucian of Antioch, the greatest critic of the Trinitarian doctrine, strongly advocated the view, which conformed to the original teachings of Jesus and all other Prophets (pbut), had definitely exposed the Trinitarian doctrine to a critical, controversial state. This, however, did not stop the Pauline church from gaining control of large part of Christendom. This happened for known reasons discussed elsewhere. The next section presents the historical background of the Trinitarian controversy.
HISTORICAL NOTES ON THE TRINITARIAN CONTROVERSY
The Trinitarian view of Christianity came into being many many years after the disappearance of Jesus (pbuh). Undoubtedly, it was not professed by Jesus (pbuh) nor by the other Prophets (pbut). As a matter of fact, the true followers of Jesus continued to affirm the Oneness of God until about 90AD. This belief in the Unity of God was manifested in the SHEPHERD OF HERMAS, which was written during this period and regarded as a book of revelation by earlier Christians. Aside from its precept on the Oneness of God, this scripture also contains other related commandments on sincerity, truthfulness, purity, patience, uprightness, piety and self-control. More specifically, the first of these commandments states:
"First of all, believe that God is One and that He created all things and organised them out to what did not exist made all things to be, and He contains all things but alone Himself is contained. Trust Him therefore and fear Him and, fearing Him be self-controlled. Keep this command and you will cast away from yourself all wickedness, put on every virtue of uprightness, and you will live to God if you keep this commandment." (6)
The Apostles Creed "I believe in the (Father) almighty" began to be known to the earlier Christians in 120 AD. The word father was, in fact, added to this creed only between 180 AD and 210 AD. A number of the Apostolic church leaders condemned this innovation, for they found it abominable to inject new ideas into the original teachings of Jesus. (7)
One of the earlier leaders of the Apostolic Church was Iraneus, who succeeded Bishop Pothinus of Lyons in 177 AD, after the latter's brutal murder. In 190 AD Iraneus wrote to Pope Victor to stop the massacre of the dissenting Christians whose belief did not agree with the doctrine of the Roman-based Pauline church. Iraneus believed in One God and supported the doctrine of the manhood of Jesus. (8)
Iraneus and the rest of the early Unitarians abhorred the Trinitarian doctrine dogma, being a deviation from the pristine teachings of Jesus (pbuh). Prior to 200 AD the term 'Trinity' (which is now the nucleus of the Christian tenets) was not at all known to the Pauline church. 'Trinity' was derived from the Latin word 'Trinitas', which wa first used by Tertullian in 200 AD to explain in Latin ecclesiastical writings by the strange doctrine of the Pauline church. Tertullian belonged to the African church. He believed in the unity of God and identified Jesus with the Jewish Messiah. He opposed Pope Callistus for teaching that capital sin could be forgiven after doing canonical penance. Tertullian was the one who opened the way for a doctrine of salvation, at least partly by 'good works'. (9)
Indeed, those who belonged to the Apostolic church accepted the plain meaning of the words spoken by Jesus as embodied in the earlier scriptures. Without resorting to mysterious dogmas, they continued to uphold the article of faith 'I believe in God, the Almighty' until 250 AD. (10) In his attempt to refute the Trinitarian view of Christianity, Lactaneus (orthodox father) wrote in 310 AD that "Christ never calls himself God". In 320 AD Eusebius of Nicomedia wrote, "Christ teaches us to call his father the true God and to worship Him".
These early Unitarian leaders were courageous enough to expose their views to refute the Trinitarian dogmas, in spite of the persecution campaign against them. Ther real champion, however, was Arius who in 318 AD popularly exposed the Pauline view that Jesus was in reality the 'son of god' and 'consubstantial ad co-eternal with the father'. One of the arguments propagated by Arius was:
"IF JESUS WAS IN REALITY THE 'SON OF GOD', THEN IT FOLLOWED THAT THE FATHER MUST HAVE EXISTED BEFORE HIM (THE SON). THEREFORE, THERE MUST HAVE BEEN A TIME WHERE THE SON (JESUS) DID NOT EXIST. THEREFORE, IT FOLLOWED THAT THE SON WAS A CREATURE COMPOSED OF AN ESSENCE OR BEING WHICH HAD NOT ALWAYS EXISTED. SINCE GOD IS IN ESSENCE ETERNAL AND EVER-EXISTING, JESUS COULD NOT BE OF THE SAME ESSENCE OF GOD." (11)
In 321 AD, Arius popularly confronted Bishop Alexander the forerunner of the Pauline church. In refuting the Trinitarian belief, Arius argued that:
"God is absolutely One. God alone ingenerate, alone eternal, alone without beginning, alone without good, alone almighty, alone unchangeable, and unalterable, ad that his being is hidden in eternal mystery from the outward eye of every creature, and that his being is hidden from external mystery from the outward eye of every creature." (12)
Four years later in 325 AD, Emperor Constantine convened the First General Council at Nicea, now called Iznik, a Turkish village in northwest Asia minor. This council was attended by 318 bishops from Spain t Persia (13). Emperor Constantine allegedly aimed at reconciling the prelates (particularly Arius and Alexander) who were involved in the Trinitarian controversy. Bishop Alexander, however, could not attend this Ecumenical Council, so he delegated Athanasuis to represent him and the Pauline church. Although the Council ratified the Trinitarian creed, the pro Arians continued to practice their own Unitarian views.
In 380 AD Emperor Theodosuis of Rome made the orthodox faith (the Trinitarian based catholic faith) obligatory for all his subjects, hence the state religion since then (14).
By 381 AD, the Council of Constantinople, the Second General Council which as attended by 186 Bishops, gave the finishing touch to the doctrine of three persons in one God. Emphatically, this council asserted the godhead of the Holy Spirit (15).
By 383 AD, Theodosuis threatened to punish all who would not believe in the doctrine of trinity. This threat, however, did not result in the total destruction of the Arian tenets; they have survived and are still the foundation of the belief of many Unitarian Christians (16).
In the 16th century, LFM Sozzini challenged John Calvin (the leader of the Protestant reformation in Switzerland) on the doctrine of the trinity. Sozzini denied the deity of Jesus and repudiated the original sin and atonement dogmas (17).
Another outspoken critic of the Trinitarian doctrine during the 16th century was Micahel Servetus, who was regarded by many as 'the founder of modern Unitarianism' (18). He lived at a time when the Roman Catholic Church was in chaos. This situation brought about the emergence of the Protestant reformists such as Martin Luther and John Calvin. Servetus, however, found the reformists views fundamentally at variance with the teachings of Jesus - particularly that of the belief in the Unity of God. So, in 1531 AD he published a book entitled 'The Errors of trinity' in which he writes:
"The philosophers have invented a third separate being truly and really distinct from the other two, which they call the third person, or the holy spirit, three beings in one nature. Admitting therefore that these three, which after their fashion they call persons, they freely admit a plurality of substances, and taking the word God strictly, they will have a plurality of Gods." (19)
Because of his relentless belief in the Oneness of God, Servetus was thrown into prison in Geneva on a charge of heresy. Subsequently, he was put to death slowly under the torment of fire. One of his followers, Castello, expressed his feeling ostensibly in a melancholic tone:
'To burn a man is not to prove a doctrine.'
In the 17th century, John Biddle (the leader of the Unitarianism in England) published a pamphlet entitled, 'Twelve arguments refuting the deity of the holy spirit.' (20)
In 1645 AD Biddle was imprisoned for his Unitarian view. Later he was summoned to appear before parliament but he firmly denied the diety of the Holy Spirit. In 1648 AS a severe ordinance was passed stating:
"...anyone who denied the trinity, or the divinity of Jesus, or the holy spirit, would suffer death without the benefit of clergy." (21)
In today's modern world, those who cling to the Trinitarian doctrine identify themselves as Christians largely to quelch their thirst for religion. Most of them do not deny the mysterious nature of the trinity, which is devoid of human logic and scientific explanation. This emanates from the hard facts that it was the masterpiece of Athanasuis! In other words, it was a human innovation of the worst kind, which is nothing but blasphemy against God and His Unitarian attribute. Unfortunately, most of the Christians are not even aware that such a mysterious doctrine was so controversial for many centuries, particularly during the reign of Emperor Constantine - largely due to political consideration - was merely one of those who played roles of various sorts on the Trinitarian controversy. As a matter of fact, other Roman emperors and key religious leaders in Christendom - particularly during the fourth century - were involved in the Trinitarian crisis one way or another.
1. Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol III, ed by JB Bury (New York: AMS Press Inc 1974) p2552. Ulfat Aziz us Samad, Islam and Christianity (Riyadh: Presidency of Islamic Research, Ifta, 1984) p293. Edward Gibbon, Vol II op cit pp 360-3614. Ibid p3615. Ibid p358-359 - According to Gibbon, the Ebionites ".ascribed to his person (Jesus) and to his future reign all the predictions of the Hebrew oracles which relate the spiritual messiah. Some of them might confess that he was born of a virgin, but they obstinantly reject the preceding existence and divine perfections of the Logos, or Son of God."6. E J Goodspeed, the Apostolic Fathers, 1950; quoted by Muhammad Ata Ur Rahman, op cit, 1984, p467. Ibid p78. Ibid p74-759. A M Renwick, The Story of the Church (Bristol: Inter Varsity Press, 1977) p4110. Muhammad Ata Ur Rahman, op cit. p711. Muhammad Ata Ur Rahman, Jesus: Prophet of Islam, p8812. Ibid p10513. A M Renwick, the Story of the Church (Bristol: Intervarsity Press 1977) p5414. Arend Th Van Leeuwen, Christianity in World History: The meeting of the faiths of East and West, trans by H H Hoskins (New York: Charles Sxribners Sons, 1964) p275-27615. A M Renwick, the Story of the Church (Bristol: Intervarsity Press 1977) p5516. Muhammad Ata Ur Rahman, op cit, p10617. Lonsdale and Laura Ragg, ed and trans from the Italian MS in the Imperial Library at Vienna, The Gospel of Barnabas (Karachi: Begum Bawaby Waqf, 1986) p xvi18. Muhammad Ata Ur Rahman, op cit, p11919. quoted by Muhammad Ata Ur Rahman, op cit p11720. Ibid p14221. Ibid