Antitrinitarians

Antitrinitarians a general name either applied to all who oppose the doctrine of the Trinity (q.v.), or, in a more restricted sense, to the opponents of the Trinity in the first three centuries of the Christian Church and to those of the 16th century.

I. The Antitrinitarians of the ancient church, before the Council of Nice, were generally called Monarchians (q.v.). They may be divided into two classes: the rationalistic or dynamic, who denied the divinity of Christ, regarding him merely as a man filled with divine power, and the Patripassians (q.v.), who identified the Son with the Father, or admitted at most only a modal Trinity. The first class had its representatives even in the Apostolical Church, for Cerinthus (q.v.) taught that the origin of Jesus was merely human; and the Ebionites, though differing on some doctrinal points, agreed in denying the divinity of Christ, one class regarding him as the son of Mary and Joseph, while the others, although looking upon him as born of the Virgin through the Holy Ghost, and acknowledging him to be a superhuman being, yet denied his divinity. The Magi (about 170) rejected the doctrine of the Logos and the Gospel of John. Theodotus the Elder, or the Tanner, was excommunicated about 200 by Bishop Victor, of Rome, for teaching that Christ was begotten in a miraculous way, but otherwise a man, without any superiority to others except that of righteousness. From the sect founded by him proceeded Theodotus the Younger, or the Money-broker, who advocated, but at the same time modified the views of the elder Theodotus. He maintained that the "Logos" dwelt in Melchizedek to a higher degree than in Christ, and thus became the founder of the Melchizedecians. Of greater influence than the heretics thus far named was Artemon (q.v.), who was also excluded from the Church of Rome for maintaining that the established doctrine of the church had always been that Christ was only a man, until Bishop Zephyrinus, of Rome, had introduced the newer doctrine of his divinity. Artemon also admitted the superhuman origin of Christ, but denied that he was superior to the prophets except by virtue. The most important of the representatives of this class of early Antitrinitarians is Paul of Samosata, bishop of Antioch, who was deposed for heresy in 269. He maintained that Christ, as a man, was begotten by the Holy Ghost; that the "Logos" which then began personally to exist dwelt in Christ as a divine power, by the use of which be rose above all other men, and became participant of divinity, which, therefore, was for him a moral, not a natural dignity.

The first representatives of the second class of the early Antitrinitarians was Praxeas (q.v.), a confessor in the time of Marcus Aurelius, and a prominent opponent of the Montanists. He taught that the Father himself descended into the Virgin, that he was born from her, and suffered, and that he (the Father) himself was Christ; that only in so far as he assumed flesh in Jesus he was called Son; that he was not, personally or otherwise, different from the Son, "but made himself the Son" (ipse se sibi filium fecit), and that he suf fered in the Son (pater compassus est filio). His adherents, therefore, were called "Patripassians." Noetus (q.v.) of Smyrna, and probably a presbyter of Ephesus, was excluded about 230 from his church as a Patripassian. He denied this charge, and we are not fully informed about the peculiar kind of Monarchianism to which he was attached. Callistus, bishop of Rome, is also said to have belonged to this class. Beryllus of Bostra (q.v.) denied that Christ had any personal existence before his incarnation, or that there was in Christ a divine nature distinct from that of his Father, but he conceded that the Godhead of the Father dwelt in the person of Jesus. Under the instruction of Origen, he repudiated his views at the Synod of Bostra in 244. The views of Beryllus were further developed by Sabellius (q.v.), a presbyter of Ptolemais (250- 260). According to him, God is an absolute, undivided unity (μονας), and the "Logos" is the self-revelation of God in the world. The Father reveals himself as God when he gives the law, as Son when he becomes man in Christ, and as Holy Spirit when he inspires the hearts of the believers.

II. The Middle Ages. — There are few traces of Antitrinitarian doctrines in the church history of the Middle Ages. Amalric of Bena, and his disciple, David of Dinanto, regarded the names of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as expressions for three different ages of the world. The Paulicians, the Catharists, and some other sects, revived, with other Gnostic and Manichaean heresies, also those concerning the Trinity.

III. The Time of the Reformation. — The rationalistic element, concealed and suppressed by the Church of Rome, came to the surface naturally at the period of the Reformation. The Anabaptist attack on practical points coincided in time, and partly in the men themselves, with the theoretical attack on the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. To the first Antitrinitarians of this period belongs Johannes Denk (died 1528), who regarded the "Logos" as the totality of all human souls, which received its highest development in Jesus. He denied consistently the pre-existence of the Logos, the divinity of Christ, and the Trinity. Hetzer, who was executed at Basel in 1529, seems to have been a disciple of Denk. Campanus, who died in prison at Cleves, was more attached to Arian views. He regarded the relation of the Father to the "Logos" as a kind of marital relation, and the Holy Ghost as an impersonal emanation from both. The views of David Georgs or Joris, of Delft, in Holland, were intermediate between Sabellianism and the Pantheism of Amalric of Bena. He regarded God as an undivided unity and as impersonal, but as having become man in three persons, Moses, Elias, Christ or Moses, Christ, David (himself), corresponding to three ages of the world. Servetus, who was burned in 1529, sought to unite Sabellianism with the teachings of Paul of Samosata. God, as undivided unity, is the Father; as descending upon the man Jesus, he is the "Logos;" Jesus, pervaded by the "Logos," is the Son; God, as the power which penetrates all creatures, and especially the human soul, is called the Holy Ghost. Later he modified his views, and represented God as the essence of all things; the Logos as the self-revelation of God, and including within himself the ideas of all other things; and the Holy Ghost as the self-communication of God to the creatures, and as identical with the world-soul. All the Antitrinitarians of this period thus far mentioned were more or less addicted to a pantheistic mysticism, and in their views concerning the Trinity agreed more with Sabellius than with Arius. One of the first prominent representatives of a rationalistic Antitrinitarianism was Gribaldo, a learned Italian jurist, who maintained that the Son was another God of the same nature, but derived from the Father. This doctrine of three gods of unequal rank was completed by Gentilis, a Calabrian. The adhea rents of Antitrinitarian views in the Reformed Church of Poland were expelled in 1565, and have since been known as Unitarians (q.v.). They honored Jesus simply as a man, but one who was richly endowed by God, and exalted for dominion over the whole world. Most of them paid adoration to him. The Unitarians were organized as a community, and received a complete system of doctrine from Faustus Socinus (q.v.), who carried out the views first set forth by his uncle, Lselius Socinus, an Italian nobleman. The principal article of his system was an attempt at an accommodation between different parties by the doctrine that, although Jesus was born a mere man, he was nevertheless without any earthly father, and was wonderfully endowed by God; was taken up into heaven, and the reward of his life was deified, that he might be a mediator to bring man, alienated from God by sin, to the knowledge and grace of God, and that he might reign as the king of his people in all periods of time. The Freethinkers, Deists, and Rationalists were, of course, all Antitrinitarians. In Germany, Seebach and Dippel were prominent by their opposition to the doctrine of the Trinity; in England, Whiston, Clarke, Lindsey, and Priestly. Owing especially to this influence, Unitarian congregations were organized in England at the close of the 18th century. In the United States the spreading of Rationalism, especially among the Congregationalists, led, in 1815, to a formal separation, and the organization of a Unitarian denomination. With them another religious denomination, who simply call themselves Christians, as well as the Universalists, and a seceding portion of the Society of Friends (the "Hicksites"), agree in the distinctive article of their faith. Swedenborg substituted for the doctrine of the Trinity a threefold revelation of the one God, who was obliged to become man that he might give a human character to the doctrines of faith, and drive back the powers of hell. Several denominations, as the Disciples, Mennonites, Quakers, and others, without rejecting the divinity of Christ, or explaining his relation to the Father, are opposed to the expression Trinity, as not being used by the Bible.

In Germany, Sabellianism has found many admirers in the school of speculative theology. Schleiermacher, in particular, was of opinion that Sabellianism both avoided the difficulties of the church doctrine, which he regarded as insoluble, and yet satisfied the natural desire of the Christian to attribute to Christ the highest predicate without endangering Monotheism (Chiistliche Glaubenslehre, 2d ed. 2:532). Many new attempts were made to advocate a Trinitarian idea of God in a sense entirely different from that of the church doctrine. We refer to them more fully in the article TRINITY SEE TRINITY . See Lange, Geschwchte der Unitarier vor der nic. Synode (Leipz. 1831, 8vo); Bock, Historia Antitrinitariorum (Koenigsberg, 1774- 84, 2 vols. 8vo); Trechsel, Die Protestant. Antitrin. vor F. Socin (Heidelb. 1839, 1844, 2 vols. 8vo); Hagenbach, Hist. of Doctrines, 1, 131; 2:210, 328, 478; Wallace, Antitrin. Biog. (Lond. 1850, 3 vols. 8vo); Shedd, Hist. of Doctrines, 1, 254 sq.; Schaff, Ch. Hist. 1, 287 sq. SEE CHRISTOLOGY.

 
Topical Outlines Nave's Bible Topics International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Online King James Bible King James Dictionary
 

Scripture linking and popups powered by VerseClick™.