The Theological Progression of the Doctrine of the Trinity from the Earliest Writings of the Early Church Fathers Through Augustine

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THE THEOLOGICAL PROGRESSION OF THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY FROM THE EARLIEST WRITINGS OF THE EARLY CHURCH FATHERS THROUGH AUGUSTINE

CHURCH HISTORY

BY SCOTT A. LINDSEY

Introduction

The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most mysterious and yet profound tenants of the Christian faith.

Augustine, when pondering the depths of the doctrine of the Trinity, was walking along the beach one day when he saw a small boy with a bucket. The boy was running back and forth from the ocean to a hole to pour water into it. When Augustine asked the boy what he was doing, he replied, “I am trying to put the ocean into the hole!” At that moment, Augustine had an epiphany. He realized he had been doing the same thing as the boy in trying to pour the infinite God into his finite mind. (Green 2000, 389) This is a great reminder when considering the Trinity.

The end of the first century and the dawn of the second marked a distinct end and beginning of the early Church. As the Apostolic age concluded, the church had to formulate its beliefs; basic statements such as the person and work of Christ and the nature of the triune God. Much of this crucial formulation of Christian theology took place in arenas of conflict and during heretical controversy. We owe much of what we doctrinally stand on today to the brilliant minds of this patristic period.

Interestingly, the word Trinity does not appear in the Bible. Words used to describe the Trinity such as “persona” or “homoousis” do not appear in the scriptures either. The semantic development of the language of the Trinity became especially important to the Church because of the Arian controversy in the fourth century. Understanding the progression of the doctrine of the Trinity from the apostolic age to the first ecumenical council in 325 AD is important to fully appreciate the battles forged and fought to define this important doctrine.

First and Second Century Thought On the Trinity



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