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Is the doctrine of the Trinity pagan in origin?


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#1 Jonathan Ridgway

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 10:50 AM

One thing that keeps coming up in discussions about Christianity is the claim that the doctrine of the Trinity is of pagan origin. This claim is made by some Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses, and even atheists. Can anyone point me to some *thorough* refutations of this?

#2 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 12:33 PM

What is the basis of the claim?

#3 Dan L.

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 01:24 PM

I can't think of any known pagan religions at that time who have any deity structure that resembles the Trinity. I suppose it is possible to drag up some obscure religion that might have some semblance of a triad of gods, but I personally haven't heard of any, nor seen any indication that any such religion had any impact on early Christianity.

#4 Rick H.

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 01:27 PM

The Hindu Trinty:

Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva

#5 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 02:39 PM

One thing that keeps coming up in discussions about Christianity is the claim that the doctrine of the Trinity is of pagan origin. This claim is made by some Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses, and even atheists. Can anyone point me to some *thorough* refutations of this?


Historically I don't see how it follows. The pagans of the time when Trinitarian doctrine was being developed within the Church, held to many (and I mean many, many) gods, not just three.

I suppose someone could refer to neo-Platonism. But then there is the theory that neo-Platonism was heavily influenced by Christian theology!

In Christ
-Fr Raphael

#6 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 02:52 PM

Tertullian was one of the earliest writers to develop the concept of the Trinity - hard to think he might have been influenced by Hinduism!

But crucially the Trinity is based on revelation from God.

#7 Lakis Papas

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 05:37 PM

Jehovah's Witnesses have created their own version of "Christian Trinity" that has nothing to do with the authentic Christian dogma. Just ask them to explain to you what they mean by the word Trinity. Their version of Trinity is of pagan origin, but the genuine Christian Trinity is not.

They make the same accusations against Christians as Muslims do. They are just ignorant, regarding Christian theology.

Further, Jehovah's Witnesses have created their own version of bible to support their cacodoxy. I think it is ineffectual to debate any issue with them.

They also misrepresent pagan religion. For instance, Hinduism presents images of three main deities (Brahma , Vishnu, Shiva) but its dogma is very complex. Hinduism is about one divine source that is perceived in a multiplicity of distinct ways and at the same time it is absolutely transcendental so that it becomes non existed. It is very strange but Hinduism is at the same time monotheistic, pantheistic and atheistic religion. By the way, Buddhism is even more atheistic than Hinduism.

But it is very limited to express the dogmas of any religion in just a phrase or two. When we talk about religions it is wrong to oversimplify things. Oversimplification is Jehovah's Witnesses main methodology to support their perspective (this is true for Muslims too).

#8 Dan L.

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 06:44 PM

I was thinking more of religions that early Christianity would have been exposed to. I don't think that there is any indication that Christianity with the exception of the Nasrani had any exposure much less influence from Hinduism. If there had been any influence, I'm fairly certain that there are much larger aspects of Hinduism that would have carried over as opposed to their theological construct of the Trinity.

The main religions that I can think of that could have influenced Christianity would have been:

Roman Pantheon and subsidiaries:
Cult of Saturnalia
Cult of Mithras
Cult of Sol Invictus

Greek Pantheon and subsidiary:
Cult of Hercules

Egyptian Diety worship and subsidary:
Cult of Isis

Cult of Cybele

Jewish Faith

Zoroastrianism

Various Gnostic groups with origins in Christianity

I can't think of any others, but I'm sure there might be. None of these have any significant Trinitarian formulation.

#9 Kosta

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 08:58 PM

Haven't read any Father citing pagan belief as their model for the Trinity. They may have used some Greek philosophical principles, like in the gospel of John about the Logos. There was a kind of female trinity in Greek thought ; Theia (goddess of light ), Rhea( rays or outflow, was the sister of theia), demeter (offspring of Rhea and godess of agriculture and harvest). In Latin Demeter was Ceres where cereal derives from.

I don't think much thought was given to the above by Christian writers nor even the philosophers they just group well. A primitive concept of photosynthesis.

#10 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 09:18 PM

The main influence on ancient Christianity was...Judaism! :)

#11 Jacob Van Sickle

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Posted 15 November 2012 - 09:19 PM

Denouncers of the Trinity as pagan in origin are probably referring to the Neo-Platonic teaching of "the One," from which "the Demiurge" (or "Nous") emanates, which in turn produces the "World-Soul." The Demiurge is the source of the forms of existing things, and the World Soul produces the corporeal things which participate in these forms. This theory emerged in the middle of the third century with Plotinus. It bears some superficial resemblance to the Trinity (e.g. the Fathers are often found calling the Word of God demiurge, which in Greek means simply "creator"). However, as Fr. Raphael has already pointed out, it is at least as likely that Christian teaching influenced Plotinus as the other way around. Ultimately, the dogmatic definitions of Nicaea and Constantinople are in no way compatible with the teachings of any Neo-Platonist. In addition, it is no surprise that the two traditions use some of the same terms to express their different teachings, insofar as they both communicated to the same cultural milieu.

#12 Owen Jones

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Posted 16 November 2012 - 09:39 AM

Generally speaking, Protestantism is based on the theory that all pre-Protestant Christianity from the post-Apostolic period onward was taken over by Greek paganism. That's in order to justify Protestantism as actually predating the Catholic faith. For sure, most Protestants accept the Trinity, but the thing about being a Protestant is that you can believe anything anyway. The person probably read it on a web site! But the primary point for Protestants is not that the Catholic Faith took a wrong turn prior to the Great Schism, or during the Middle Ages, but at its inception it was nothing but paganism superimposed on Apostolic Christianity.

Luther's intent, in fact, was to re-Judaize Christianity. Part of the motivation for doing that was that he believed he could convert all of the Jews, which he believed was necessary, in part, in order to build a stronger coalition in defense of Europe against the threat of Islam, which he believed the Pope was ignoring. On the latter point of course he was correct. So there is a kind of subliminal anti-Trinitarianism there in all of Protestantism.

#13 Archimandrite Irenei

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Posted 18 November 2012 - 12:04 AM

Attempts to ascribe the origins of the doctrine of the Trinity to Pagan precedents are, I must confess, one of the more amusing ironies of life. Part of the work of the Fathers in the second and third centuries was to try to offer a rational defence (apologia) of the Trinity to Pagan audiences, precisely because the latter found it so absurd to their systems of belief.




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