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Development of Doctrine. The Fathers of the Church, Trinity and Christology. The Challenge. The life, death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus left the early Church with questions. The problem was that the world had never seen a Being like Christ.

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Development of doctrine

Development of Doctrine

The Fathers of the Church, Trinity and Christology

The challenge
The Challenge

  • The life, death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus left the early Church with questions.

  • The problem was that the world had never seen a Being like Christ.

  • His revelation of the Trinity also was a difficult concept to grasp.

  • If the Church was going to fulfill Christ’s command to “go baptize all nations” (Mt. 28:19) it was going to have to be prepared to explain the Nature and Person of Christ and the mystery of the Trinity.

  • Some questions they have to consider were:

    • How is Jesus both God and man?

    • What is the relationship between Jesus’ Humanity and His Divinity.

    • How is the Trinity one and three at the same time?

    • The Divinity of the Holy Spirit

    • Mary’s relationship to the Trinity

    • To answer these issues the Church was going to have to develop the doctrines of Christ and the Trinity based on Scripture and Tradition.


  • To do theology one must use the best of human reason to try to explain the Divine Reality of God.

  • Philosophy is the study of human existence or human reality by means of logical reasoning.

  • Therefore, the Fathers of the Church (the early teachers and leaders of Christianity) chose to use the best of human reason to try to explain the Nature and Person of Christ and the Trinity.

  • Some Philosophical terms are necessary for us to deepen our understanding of the mystery of God.

  • Substance/Nature – this term refers to what an individual is made of at its core. For example, the substance of God is Divinity and the substance of man is humanity.

  • Person – is defined as, “an individual substance of a rational nature” or a unique thinking individual.

  • Relation – refers to both the real union between the Persons of the Trinity and the distinction between the Persons based in Divine Individuality.

An analogy of the trinity the sun the beam and the light
An Analogy of the Trinity: The Sun, the Beam, and the Light

  • How is the analogy one?

    • Remember “substance” – the Sun is the source of light, the beam is light, the visible light is light = one substance/One God.

    • How is the analogy three?

      • The sun, beam, and light are distinct yet in relation.

The Sun = God the Father

The Beam = Jesus

(Earth)The Light = The Holy Spirit

  • The sun is the source of light and life.

  • God the Father is the source of all Creation and the source of the Trinity.

  • Just as the beam of light connects the sun and the Earth; so too Jesus bridges the gap between God and man.

  • The Holy Spirit is the visible Light Whom we see at work in the world in the Church and in us.

Development of christology
Development of Christology

  • As the Gospel spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond, certain teachers, pastors, and bishops would teach errors about the Nature and Person of Christ.

  • These errors, which the Church calls heresies, were denials of truths essential to the Christian faith.

  • Early Christological heresies divided the Church between those who followed the heretical teaching and those who kept faithful to orthodox teaching (right teaching and worship).

  • In response to heresy the Church often gathered together in an Ecumenical Council.

  • An Ecumenical Council is a worldwide meeting of the bishops with the Pope to discuss and resolve problems or issues in the Church.

  • Active at early Ecumenical Councils, were the Fathers of the Church, who were teachers and writers in the early Church, many of whom were bishops, whose teachings provided a great witness to the Apostolic Tradition.


  • Arius, a priest of Alexandria, became a very popular preacher in the mid-3rd century.

  • His preaching focused on his dilemma over the question of the Incarnation.

  • Influenced by Platonic thought, which taught that God was so transcendent (beyond us) that He could not have any relationship with the world for the world and matter are evil (dualism) – Arius taught that Jesus was not divine, rather He was a created mediator between God and man.

  • Jesus is therefore not God, but rather some kind of creature higher than man but lower than God.

  • Arius’ teaching became very popular in Egypt and throughout north Africa, the Middle East, and Asia Minor.

  • This heresy divided the Church and it would need a clear response from the Church and the newly Christian Roman Empire to put the Christ back in Christianity.

Out of the sewers and into the debate
Out of the Sewers and into the Debate

  • In 313AD, after nearly 300 years of Christian persecution, the Emperor Constantine legalized and officially favored Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire.

  • To answer the challenge of Arianism, Constantine called an Ecumenical Council at Nicaea in 325AD.

  • The bishops gathered together to discuss Arius’ claim that Jesus was not Divine.

  • The Council condemned Arius’ teaching and confirmed the constant teaching of Scripture and Tradition that Jesus is Divine.

  • The Council also wrote the Nicene Creed to announce the Truth of Christ’s Divinity.


  • Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople (386-451AD) sought to solve the equation of how Jesus is God and man.

  • His answer, which became known as Nestorianism, stated that Jesus’ Divine and human natures were rigidly separate.

  • Therefore, only the Divine Nature of Jesus is God and the human nature is of no consequence.

  • Nestorius also denied Mary the title of Mother of God or Theotokos. He thought that Mary only gave birth to Jesus’ humanity and not to a Divine Person.

  • To combat Nestorianism, the Church convened an Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431AD which condemned Nestorius’ position.

  • Under the leadership of St. Cyril of Alexandria, the Council defined that Jesus Christ has two natures, one fully human and one fully Divine, in one hypostasis (Person).


  • Nestorianism remained within the heresy of Monophysitism.

  • Monophysitism taught that within Christ His Divine Nature absorbed His human nature, so that there remained only one Divine Nature or physis.

  • This heresy endangered the humanity of Christ and sought to remove the image of Christ as our brother Who experienced all we experience and more – especially His redeeming pain experienced on the Cross.

  • The Church called an Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon in 451AD.

  • The Council affirmed that Christ is a unique Being whose Person is one, He is “consubstantial with the Father in His Divinity and consubstantial with us as to His humanity.” (CCC #467).

  • The Council affirms the real solidarity and brotherhood that Christ experienced with us in His humanity and His fully Divinity.

  • His two natures are complete and entire without any confusion or subtraction. He is fully human and fully Divine.


  • The question of Jesus’ humanity led to a full denial of It in the heresy of Docetism.

  • Docetism denied that Jesus’ body was real, instead His body was a cloak or an illusion and therefore He was only Divine.

  • This heresy offends many essential Christian doctrines including: the Incarnation, the saving act of the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, etc.

  • Not only would this way of thinking offend the saving work of Jesus in His humanity but it also casts onto God the role of a deceiver. God did not take on human flesh but instead He deceives us into believing His body to be real.

  • God is dishonest therefore and therefore and able to meddle with human beings. This way of thinking is more in line with ancient Greek and Roman visions of the gods, who meddle and deceive human beings to complete their own will.

  • The Church obviously rejected Docetism due to its complete incompatibility with the Christian faith.


  • Gnosticism was a philosophical system of dualist thinking which some attempted to merge Christian beliefs into.

  • Gnosticism emphasized the need to attain “special” and “secret” wisdom from God/an agent of God.

  • Gnosis = knowledge (Greek).

  • This “special” and “secret” wisdom was the basis of salvation.

  • Gnostics were characterized by their extreme asceticism (penance) or extreme lack of morals.

  • There are several incompatibilities between Gnosticism and Christianity:

    • Salvation is based not in Christ, but rather, in “secret knowledge” attainable only to the elite.

    • Gnostic dualism disregarded the importance of the body and therefore would reject the Incarnation and the saving grace of the Cross.

    • Gnostics emphasis on knowledge denies the fullness of Revelation found within the Sacred Scriptures.

    • Gnostics reduced Jesus to a semi-divine Being who was not fully God, but rather was sent to impart “special knowledge” upon God’s chosen.

The gnostic gospels
The Gnostic Gospels

  • The Gnostic Gospels are a collection of pseudo-Christian writings dating from the 2nd-3rd century.

  • These writings portray Jesus through a “Gnostic lens”.

  • For example, “The Gospel of Thomas” exhibits a Pantheistic vision of Jesus, “…I am everything. From me all came forth, and to me all return. Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift a stone, and you will find me there.”

  • Other Gnostic Gospels teach that women must become men to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

  • The Church rejected these Gospels for several reasons: (1) they were written well after the writings of the New Testament, (2)they were not written by reliable witnesses, (3)their teaching is incompatible with the witness of the Gospels.

The nicene constantinopolitan creed
The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed

  • The Creed begun at Nicaea was completed in 381AD at the Council of Constantinople.

  • The Council elaborated on the Divinity of the Holy Spirit in an effort to root out the remnants of Arianism.

  • The completed Creed from 381AD is the same Creed which we recite at every Solemn Liturgy.

  • It emphasizes four things: (1) our Trinitarian faith, (2) the essential significance of Jesus’ Incarnation, death, Resurrection and Ascension, (3) the four “marks” of the Church – “one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic”, and (4) the confirmation of the Resurrection of the dead and bodily Eternal Life with God.