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Were there problems with Tertullian's conception of the trinity?

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#1 David Wolf

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Posted 28 April 2015 - 04:03 PM

The Catholic Encyclopedia says:


Tertullian has the true formula for the Holy Trinity, tres Personae, una Substantia. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are numerically distinct, and each is God; they are of one substance, one state, and one power. So far the doctrine is accurately Nicene. But by the side of this appears the Greek view which was one day to develop into Arianism: that the unity is to be sought not in the Essence but in the origin of the Persons. He says that from all eternity there was reason (ratio) in God, and in reason the Word (Sermo), not distinct from God, but in vulva cordis. For the purpose of creation the Word received a perfect birth as Son. There was a time when there was no Son and no sin, when God was neither Father nor Judge.


Do you think this assessment is accurate? Where in his writings does it become clear? Are there any other aspects of Tertullian's trinitarianism that wouldn't accord with Nicea?

#2 Kosta


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Posted 28 April 2015 - 10:59 PM

I would have to read Tertullian further. Secondly Tertullian was a latin writer and Athanasios greek so I dont see how this was a "greek" view.
Also modern day Latin trinitarianism is not Nicene. Non-nicene creeds used in the west such as he so called Athanasian creed rejects God the Father as the first principle. This aspect of nicene theology has been lost in the latin understanding. It is from the hypostasis of the Father that the divine nature finds it source.

Edited by Kosta, 28 April 2015 - 11:01 PM.

#3 Kosta


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Posted 29 April 2015 - 06:21 AM

After doing some searching I found this pdf file examining Tertullian's trinitarian teachings. Its a pretty good overview. The issue of concern starts on page 12. All in all I would say his views were not much different than his contemporaries. There is a bit of subordination tendency to the Son and the Spirit, and some "iffy" language. No different than what Justin Martyr said.  I dont believe that "iffy" language used by Tertullian is a denial of the eternity of the Son, (in my opinion).


The one quote does sound alot like the arian slogan "there was a time the Son was not". What we know is that Arianism originated in the Lucian school of Antioch in about 290 AD. It is very possible Tertullian planted the seeds for its inspiration. From what I remember, all the arian sources themselves never had a 'smoking gun' statement of saying, 'Christ was a creation'  but simply, 'there was a time the Son was not'.


 Tertullian was saying that certain titles of God did not apply at all times. For example before the fall there was no need for a great Judge because without sin there is nothing to judge. Likewise there would have been no need of a son if there was no fall, since no plan of an incarnation was needed before the fall, the Logos was not the Logos but the 'reason' of God. He reserves the incarnational period of the Son (post fall) as Logos, but before creation the Son is only the 'reason' of God etc.


Here the link you can read it and make up your mind:



Edited by Kosta, 29 April 2015 - 06:24 AM.

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