There was not simply one heresy regarding the nature of God, but many different contradictory ones. There seem to have been almost as many different ideas as there were philosophical schools and teachers. Mainstream Catholic thought, from which orthodox Protestant teaching on the subject sprang, merely represents the particular brand of heresy that won out over its competitors. Since it is this teaching that has survived, with some modification, until our time, it is the one that we will examine most closely.
The background of third century orthodoxy on the subject of the Trinity is to be found not in the biblical text, but in Greek philosophical writings. The Roman Catholic New Theological Dictionary makes a number of frank admissions in this regard. Concerning the Scriptural teaching on the nature of the Holy
Spirit, in its article, "Trinity," it acknowledges: "As such, the Spirit is never the explicit object of NT worship, nor is the Spirit ever represented in NT discourse as interacting in an interpersonal way with the Father and the Son."
Later in the same article, modern Catholic scholars, discussing the background of orthodox teaching on the Trinity, confess pagan influences upon their theology:
"Christians. conversant with the then dominant philosophy of middle-Platonism seized the opportunity to proclaim and elucidate the Christian message in a thought form which was meaningful to the educated classes of the widespread Hellenistic society. This movement, which Catholic theology has generally evaluated positively, will have an enormous impact on the development of Christian theology.. Confident that the God they [pagan Greek philosophers] preached was the Father of Jesus Christ and the salvation they proclaimed was that of Jesus, the apologists adapted much of the Hellenic worldview... [Tertullian made] the first known use of the term 'trinity.'
Origen appropriated the philosophy of middle-Platonism more systematically than the apologists and Tertullian had. In fact, his 'concept of eternal generation' was an adaptation of the middle-Platonic doctrine that the whole world of spiritual beings was eternal. The Son is eternally derived (or generated) from the very being of God and hence is of the Father's essence, but second to the Father.. Origen, like Tertullian coined a generic term for the 'three' of the divine triad. The Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit are 'three hypostases'.. Origen's major contribution to the formulation of the trinitarian doctrine is the notion of eternal generation. His generic term for the 'three' (hypostases) will be adopted and refined in the fourth century" (p. 1,054).
As we look at the development of "Christian" theology in the late second and early third centuries, the names of Tertullian and Origen keep coming up. Tertullian (ca. 150-225ad), called the father of Latin theology, was "one of the most powerful writers of the time and almost as influential as Augustine in the development of theology in the West" (Eerdman, Handbook to the History of Christianity, p. 77).
Tertullian lived in Carthage and was one of the first to teach that a fiery hell began at death. In his later years he broke with Rome and became a Montanist. This meant that he accepted the claims of two demon-possessed women who called themselves prophetesses. They went into ecstatic frenzies and "spoke in tongues," claimed to be the "Paraclete" (a term for the Holy Spirit in John's Gospel), and taught a message termed the "New Prophecy."
Origen (ca. 185-254ad) "was the greatest scholar and most prolific author of the early church" (Eerdman, p. 104). About 203AD, Origen succeeded Clement of Alexandria as leader of a famous school that purported to prepare Christians for baptism, and offered courses in philosophy and natural science for the general populace. For all his reputation as a great scholar and teacher of theology, how much did Origen really understand? According to fourth century church historian Eusebius, not too long after he took over the school at Alexandria, Origen castrated himself! This act was based upon his understanding (or rather, misunderstanding!) of Christ's words in Matthew 5:29-30.
This same utter lack of sound-minded understanding of the real meaning and intent of Scripture is poignantly displayed in much of his theological writing. "Origen introduced the possibility of a remedial hell [purgatory]" (International Bible Encyclopedia, "Hell"). He also played an important part in what later developed into Catholic Mary-worship by first proposing the idea that Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus.
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