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Meditation 1094
Faith or Fact

The Trinity

by: Henry M. Taber

Comment by JT: I would warn the reader once again to be wary of the late 19th century comparative religion in this chapter. This applies both to discussions of the trinity in other religions and the virgin birth in other religions.

But most of the chapter which is a discussion of how the Trinity is not biblical and did not enter orthodox Christian belief until the fourth Century — I think that's reasonably sound.

For those interested in following up on the issue of 1 John 5:7 mentioned by Taber, I suggest the Wikipedia article on Comma Johanneum is a good place to start.

Your thoughts on this Meditation are welcome. Please sign in to the discussion forum below, or alternatively, use the contact page to provide your comments for publication.

THE TRINITY.

PROBABLY very few Christians are aware that the doctrine of the Trinity is a very ancient one; that it existed long before the birth of Christianity; that it (like nearly all of the signs, rites, ceremonies, observances and dogmas of the Christian Church) is of Pagan origin. Centuries before the Trinity of “ Father, Son and Holy Ghost” was promulgated, there were believers in the Trinity of “ Brahma, Vishnu and Siva,” of “Osiris, Isis and Horus,” of “Indra, Varnu and Agni,” of “Odin, Vili and Ve,” of “Mithra, Oromasdes and Ariman,” of “Buddah, Dharma and Sangha.”

Rev. R. Heber Newton says: “The doctrine of the Trinity is an Eastern speculation; Christianity clothed itself in this ancient garb, betraying to him who knows the fabric of the East, the looms of Egypt and of India.”

Rev. Lyman Abbott says: “Traces of belief in the Trinity are to be found in the most heathen nations. It is discernible in Persian, Egyptian, Roman, Japanese and most of the ancient Grecian mythologies, and is very marked in Hindooism.”

The following quotation from an ancient Hindoo poet will show how closely the ancient and modern idea of the Trinity correspond:

“In those three persons the one God was shown,
Each first in place, each last, not one alone
Of Siva, Vishnu, Brahma, each may be
First, second, third, among the blessed three.”

Rev. James Freeman Clarke speaks of the adoption by Christianity of “the Platonic and Egyptian Trinity.”

Winwood Reade speaks of “the Trinity which the Egyptians had invented and which Plato had idealized into a philosophical system.”

Rev. Andrews Norton says: “We can trace the history of this doctrine (of the Trinity) and discover its source — not in the Christian Revelation — but in the Platonic philosophy, … introduced into the Christian religion by the Fathers of the Church.”

The doctrine of the Trinity, in its relation to Christianity, was utterly unknown in the first century of the Christian Era, and (says the late Rev. Henry W. Bellows, D.D.) was invented  by theologians in the second century.”

The first use of the word Trinity, by Christians, that we find, is by Theophilus, in the later part of the second century.

Tertulian introduced the idea of the Trinity into theology about the year 200.

C. B. Waite says: “The doctrine of the Trinity was not a belief in the first two centuries.”

Rev. John W. Chadwick says: “For more than two centuries after the death of Jesus it remained doubtful whether he was to be regarded as a human or a divine being.”

Even so truly orthodox an authority as the Rev. Wm. G. T. Shedd, D.D., says: “The doctrine (of the Trinity) did not contain a technical construction in the first two centuries and a half.”

John Fiske places the first announcement of the doctrine of the Trinity in 250 to 260.

Rev. Philip Schaff, D.D., says: “The doctrine of the divinity of Christ was but imperfectly developed in the anti-Nicene period.”

Cardinal Manning says: “The creeds of that early day (in the first three centuries) make no mention in their letter of the doctrine (of the Trinity) at all. They make mention, indeed, of a three; but that they are co-equal — co-eternal, is not stated and never could be gathered from them.”

According to Mosheim the doctrine of the Trinity was in an undeveloped state in the third century, when several different opinions or theories were advanced regarding the doctrine. The views held by Noetus Sabillius and Manes were somewhat in the nature of compromises between Arianism and Athanasianism.

According to Rev. Dr. Lyman Abbott, the doctrine of the Trinity (as enunciated by Athanasius) was not promulgated till the fourth century.

Petavius (R. C.) in his celebrated work on the Trinity (17th century) says: “Concerning the three persons of the divinity nothing was fully written or known before the Council of Nice” — 325. At which Council three persons in godhead are declared a fundamental article of faith.

Rev. Andrews Norton says: “The doctrine of Athanasius concerning the Trinity was established by the Council of Nice… The doctrine of the incarnation continued in an unsettled state till the fourth century.” He also tells us that the subject of the personality and divinity of the Holy Spirit was undetermined until the Council of Constantinople — 383.

Professor Sparks says that the Deity of the Holy Spirit was not formally decreed till the Council of Constantinople.

The doctrine of the Trinity rests on the supposition that Christ was not the son of Joseph, and on the (absurd) assumption that he was unnaturally born (of a virgin).

But, “what saith the Scriptures?”

In Matthew i: 16, we read of “Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born.”

Luke iii: 23, speaks of “Jesus the son of Joseph.”

In John i: 45, we read of “Jesus of Nazareth the son of Joseph.”

If it be true, as Matthew says it is, that Joseph was Mary’s (only) husband, it is not only unreasonable but highly improper to assume that Joseph was not the father of Jesus; and if Luke and John’s records be true, the question is settled that Jesus was the son of Joseph.

Rev. John W. Chadwick has very properly intimated that it is an insult to the memory of Mary and a stigma upon her chastity to deny that Joseph was the father of Jesus.

In further corroboration of this position, we read in Luke, chap. ii, that Jesus, having been absent from home for three days, his parents went in search of him and, having found him, Mary administered a rebuke to him for his absence, adding, “Thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.” Christ himself never claimed a miraculous birth.

Kersey Graves says: “We find the story of the immaculate conception resting entirely upon the slender foundation comprised in the legends of an angel and a dream. We are told that Mary got it by an angel and Joseph by a dream; and through these sources we have the whole ground work of the story of the divinity of Christ.”

It was usual to claim virgin births for founders of religions. Such claims were made for Zoroaster, Buddah, Chrisna, Quenxalcote, Hesus and many others, as well as for Pythagoras, Arion, Plato, Yu, Appolonius Tyanneus and others of prominence in ancient times.

The Christian “Scheme of Salvation” is supported by the double claim that Christ had no natural father and that he was (in the male line) of the lineage of David.

Both cannot be true.

The Truth Seeker says: “If Joseph was his (Jesus) father, the lack of divine parentage vitiates the whole Christian scheme. If the Holy Ghost was his father then he was not of the house of David, which again vitiates the scheme.”

There seems the strongest possible evidence from the utterances and doings of those who knew Jesus best that the claim for his divinity is unsubstantiated.

In Matt. xxiii: 55, the significant enquiry is made, “Is not this (Jesus) the carpenter’s son? ”

John (vii: 5) says: “For neither did his brethren (James, Joseph, Simon and Judas) believe on him.”

Of his own disciples Thomas doubted him, Peter denied him and Judas betrayed him, and, finally, says Matthew (xxvi: 56), “all the disciples forsook him and fled.”

If, in his own generation, his most intimate friends and his nearest of kin refused to believe on his being a third of the Trinity, why should it be expected that nearly two thousand years thereafter those who knew of him only by tradition should so believe ?

A few years since I had a conversation with a professor of theology in Princeton Seminary who I had heard preach a sermon, in which he insisted upon the truth of the dogma of Christ’s virgin birth. I asked him how he reconciled this theological dogma with the record of the genealogy of Christ as found in Matthew and in Luke, in both of which accounts the genealogy is brought down from David through Joseph to Christ, His reply was that he did not know it (did not know that his genealogy came through Joseph). In other words he was ignorant of that upon which the whole fabric of his theology rested until I told him! That professor is now president of Princeton University.

The human (the humane) character of Jesus far transcends that upon which theologians insist upon in his (supposed) relation to Deity. As Winwood Reade has said, “He was a man of the people, a rustic and an artisan… He was led to take the part of the poor. He sympathized deeply with the outcasts, the afflicted and oppressed, To children and to women, to all who suffered and shed tears, to all from whom men turned with loathing and contempt, to the girl of evil life, … to the sorrowful in spirit and the weak in heart, to the weary and heavy laden, Jesus appeared as a shining angel with words sweet as the honey-comb and bright as the golden day. He laid his hands on the head of the lowly and bade the sorrowful be of good cheer.”

What a contrast is such a gentle being with that merciless existence — the sole creation of theology — which could say: “He that believeth not shall be damned,” or “Depart from me into everlasting fire.”

The importance to orthodox theology of the dogma of the Trinity is thus explained by Rev. O. B. Frothingham: “To deny the Trinity is to deny the deity of Christ; to deny the deity of Christ is to deny the sufficiency of his atonement; to deny the atonement is to deny the need of man; to deny the need of man is to deny the necessity of grace, to vacate the offices of the church and to reduce to nothing the significance of christendom.”’

The conception of the Trinity has differed greatly in different minds and in different ages. The creed of Athanasius says: “The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Ghost is God, and yet there are not three gods, but one God.”

Gregory Nyssen, Cyril of Alexandria, and others regard the Trinity as composed of three individuals “as distinct as Peter, James and John.”

The orthodox theologians of the present day explain withperfect clearness (to their own minds) that there are “three persons in one God, but that these three persons are not three individual beings or separate existences, but three ‘essences’ (or constituent substances) similar in nature, which similitude of nature and of essence constitutes the one God.”

Rev. Lyman Abbott says: “Precisely what the doctrine of the Trinity is, or rather how it is to be explained, Trinitarians are not agreed among themselves.”

Rev. Andrews Norton says: “The ancient opinions concerning the Trinity (before the Council of Nice were very different from the modern doctrine” — which, according to Cudworth, was established by the fourth general Lateran Council — 1215.

Rev. R. Heber Newton says of the doctrine of the Trinity that “it should not be accepted in the form held by the conventional Christian, but in that which is held by the philosophic mind of to-day.”

It is a very significant fact that the text “There are three that bear record in heaven — the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one"  — 1 John v: 7 (and from which text millions of sermons, to prove by the Scriptures the truth of the doctrine of the Trinity, have been preached) is omitted in the “revised edition.”

The word “Trinity” occurs nowhere in the Bible.

Sacrobuscus (R. C.) says: “The Arians were not condemned by the Scriptures but by tradition.”

Rev. James Freeman Clarke says: “You will scarcely find a minister of the Church of England who will admit that he believes the Athanasian creed, and yet no convention of that body has ever been willing to surrender it… We recently saw an account of a discussion in the House of Bishops of the Church of England on a proposition to discontinue the use of the Athanasian creed in the church service. The Archbishop of Canterbury gave as a reason for retaining it that no one believed it and so it could do no harm.”

Archbishop Tillotson said of the Athanasian creed that he wished the Church of England “were well rid of it.”

Rev. Dr. South says: “Men cannot persuade themselves that Omniscience, Omnipotence and Omnipresence should have been wrapt in swaddling clothes.”

Rev. Andrews Norton says: “The creed attributed to Athanasius (a spurious work of some unknown writer) seems to have been formed in the delirium of folly, but is now the professed faith of a great portion of Protestants… The Eternal Three! The Deity an infant! God bleeding and thereby appeasing heaven! The monster legends of Hindoo superstition present nothing more revolting.”

Lord Bacon thus describes a Trinitarian’s belief: “He believes a virgin to be the mother of a Son who is her maker. That He, whom heaven and earth could not contain was shut up in a narrow room. That He, who is from everlasting, was born in time. That He, who is the Almighty, was carried in arms. That He, who only had life and immortality, had died.”

Bacon further defines a Trinitarian to be one who believes “three to be one and one to be three.”

Rev. Dr. Channing speaks of the “bad arithmetic of the doctrine of the Trinity.”

L. K. Washburn says: “Who believes in the Trinity must hate the multiplication table.”

Rev. J. M. Capes, of the Church of England, says: “To say that a being can be both three and one, at the same time, is simply a falsehood.”

Rev. John W. Chadwick says: “The three — one God – but neither one of them the other.”

The difficult feat of transcorporation, of three persons with one, is called by another writer, “Theological legerdemain.”

What a grotesque description is that by Mr. Raymond S. Perrin of a painting of the Trinity by Pesello, 1442, in the National Gallery of London, “God is presented — wearing a hat somewhat resembling that of the Pope — in a sitting posture, holding in his hands the cross on which Jesus is nailed. The Holy Ghost, in the form of a dove, rests upon the bosom of the Father and watches the Son.”

And now that the doctrine of eternal punishment has been condemned by the enlightened sentiment of the age; that the belief in a god of personality has given place to that of immanence or transcendent intelligence, or that God and nature are interchangeable terms; that heaven is no longer a place but a “condition,” that the devil is an evil influence and not a personal being; that the six days of creation have expanded into six periods of time; that the age of the world, instead of six thousand years, geology teaches, is nearer six millions of years; that the heliocentric has supplanted the geocentric system of astronomy; that chemistry has verified the eternal existence of matter; that Darwin and Haeckel are now more acceptable as teachers of biology than Moses; that the Biblical story of universal creation has become merged in the grand and scientific truth which the theory of evolution has unfolded and demonstrated; that the dogmas of original sin, total depravity, Predestination, Election, Partialism, Preteriton, of an inerrant book and of an infallible man, have adherents only among the most credulous; that belief in parthenogenesis and anthropomorphism is rejected by all who recognize the invariability of natural law and who make use of their thinking faculties; that the doctrines of the incarnation, atonement, resurrection and ascension are being repudiated by the more rational thought of the day; that the traditions, legends, fables, myths, superstitions and miracles of the Bible are daily finding fewer believers; now that all these and other false assumptions — the heritage of an ignorant past-are fast fading from view, may we not hope that the unreasonable, the absurd, the Pagan-born dogma of the Trinity will also be, soon (to quote Rev. W. H. H. Murray, D.D.) “relegated to the limbo into which are flung the (other) castoff garments of vagabond theories.”

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