Response to David Bercot, What the Early Christians Believed About The Trinity, Oneness vs. Trinity

What the Early Christians Believed About The Trinity

Early Christian Writings Were Burned By The Catholic Church

Mr. Bercot depends upon the number of surviving early Christian writings in developing his understanding of theology rather than considering the historical fact that the theology of the early Christian majority was destroyed by the later Roman Catholic Church. The historical evidence proves that the majority of the earliest Christians were Oneness Modalistic Monarchians (Tertullian, Against Praxeus 3 / Origen, Commentary of the Gospel of John, book 1, 23) and that the later Roman Catholic Church burned the Modalistic writings while copying and protecting the writings of the Semi-Arians who held to a form of Semi-Trinitarianism before the Trinity doctrine was fully developed.

Under Sabellius, the New Advent Encyclopedia admits, “All of his (Sabellius’) original works were burned.”

Trinitarian author Paul Pavao wrote, “No writings of Praxeas or Sabellius survive today because they were considered heresy by the Church.” (Author Paul Pavao, Christian History for Every Man. Greatest Stories Ever Told. 2014. http://www.christian-history.org/page-name.html)

The 325 AD Nicene Creed Is Not Trinitarian

Mr. Bercot claims that he is a Trinitarian who believes in the early Nicene Creed rather than the later so-called Athanasian Creed. However, the early Nicene Creed of 325 is not a true Trinitarian Creed as it favors Oneness Modalism rather than the later Trinitarian doctrine.

At 2:07 into Mr. Bercot’s lecture entitled, “What The Early Christians Believed About the Trinity,” Mr. Bercot said, “Most Western Christians do not believe in the early Nicene Creed even though they say that they do.”

Play video clip from 2:07 – 2:17

What Mr. Bercot means is that most Western Christians really believe in the fifth century Trinitarian Athanasian Creed rather than the fourth century Nicene Creed because the fourth century Nicene Creed is not what most Trinitarians would consider an orthodox Trinitarian Creed.

Play video clip from 24:15 to 25:49

At 24:15 into his lecture, Mr. Bercot said, “Yet most Western Christians do not grasp this distinction. In fact, Augustine, who was not very learned in his Greek; he came up with an explanation of the Trinity that departed very markedly from that which the church had always believed up until that time that was a thorough misunderstanding of the Nicene Creed. And it is Augustine’s theology, it is his explanation of the Trinity that is known to us Westerner’s as the Athanasian Creed, but don’t confuse the Athanasian Creed with the Nicene Creed.”

Mr. Bercot pretends that the 325 Nicene Creed is a Trinitarian Creed even though the words “Trinity,” “three persons,” and “coeternal” are never used in it. Yet Mr. Bercot was correct when he stated that Augustine “came up with an explanation of the Trinity that departed markedly from that which the church had always believed.”

Mr. Bercot correctly understands that the early Nicene Creed of 325 actually contradicts the Trinitarian theology of the later so called “Athanasian Creed” which was produced from the writings of Augustine in the fifth century. What Mr. Bercot fails to grasp is that the early Nicene Creed of 325 actually supports Oneness Modalism rather than Trinitarianism.

Church historian Jaroslav Pelikan wrote that Marcellus of Ancyra “proved an embarrassment to Nicene Orthodoxy” because he and other “Sabellian” Monarchians were among “the signers in 325 (Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition, Vol. 1, Pg. 207).” How could the Modalists have signed the Nicene Creed if the early Nicene Creed was a true Trinitarian Creed? Thus it is clear that the 325 Nicene Creed was designed in such a way that the Modalistic bishops had no problem signing the Creed while the Arians who denied the divinity of Jesus Christ could not sign it. Therefore the early Nicene Creed does not clearly support the Trinitarian doctrine because it does not spell out what Trinitarians believe.

Church historian B. B. Edwards pointed out that the early 325 Nicene Creed actually contradicts later Trinitarian theology while affirming Modalism:

“It lies, moreover, on the very face of the Nicene Creed, that it acknowledges the Father only as the Monad of the Godhead: ‘We believe in One God the Father almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God the only begotten of the Father, etc.’ Jesus Christ as here presented to us is not the one God, but the one Lord who was begotten of the substance of the one God or the Father, etc. The Father then, as presented in this Creed (Nicene), is not merely a distinct person, i.e. not merely one of the three persons, and on an equality with the other two; but he is the original, independent, self-existent monad.” (“THE BIBLICAL REPOSITORY AND QUARTERLY OBSERVER. By B. B. EDWARDS”, Under Remarks of the Nicene Creed, The Biblical Repository and Classical Review, American Biblical Repository, Page 295)

According to the early Nicene Creed, God the Father alone is the “independent, self-existent monad” and “the Son of God” was “begotten of the substance of the one God or the Father (Heb. 1:3 “Who being the brightness of his glory [the Father’s glory] and the express image [“hypostasis” = the Father’s “Substance of Being”] of his person [the Father’s Person]…”)” via his virgin conception. Hence, the Nicene Creed of 325 actually teaches that the One God who is “the only true God” (John 17:3) is the Father and that the Son “was begotten (lit. “born”) of the substance of the one God” the Father Himself. Therefore the early Nicene Creed was not a Trinitarian Creed like the later so called Athanasian Creed; as the early Nicene Creed actually taught that the Son is the “substance of Being” (see “hypostasis” = “Substance of Being” in Heb. 1:3) of the only true God the Father Himself who had his beginning by his virgin begetting rather than as another eternal true God Person beside God the Father.

The 5th Century Athanasian Creed Is The True Trinitarian Creed

The so called “Athanasian Creed” was written by an unknown Catholic author within the fifth or early sixth-century and not by the fourth-century bishop Athanasius (Under “Athanasian Creed,” Wikipedia says, “It has since been widely accepted by modern scholars that the creed was not authored by Athanasius, that it was not originally called a creed at all, nor was Athanasius' name originally attached to it … The most likely time frame is in the late fifth or early sixth century AD – at least 100 years after Athanasius. The theology of the creed is firmly rooted in the Augustinian tradition, using exact terminology of Augustine's On the Trinity (published 415 AD)”). The fifth or sixth century Roman Catholic author of the Athanasian Creed used some of the fifth-century writings of Augustine of Hippo to develop the so called “Athanasian Creed.” Hence, we know that the author of the Athanasian Creed could not have been Athanasius who lived before the time of Augustine (Athanasius lived in the fourth century while Augustine lived in the early fifth century). Therefore the fourth-century bishop of Alexandria named Athanasius could not have been the author of the so called Athanasian Creed.

At 2:18 into Mr. Bercot’s lecture, Mr. Bercot said, “The Doctrine of the Trinity had become so jumbled that I’m not even going to be able to cover it in an hour… ”

Play video clip from 2:18 – 2:54

Mr. Bercot is referring to the later fifth or sixth-century so called “Athanasian Creed” becoming “so jumbled” that he would not “be able to cover it in an hour.” Remember that Mr. Bercot had said that “Most Western Christians do not believe in the early Nicene Creed even though they say that they do.” Mr. Bercot was saying that most modern Western Christians really believe in the later “jumbled” Athanasian Creed rather than the earlier Nicene Creed of 325.

The Begotten God or The Begotten Son of God

Play video clip from 49:25 – 49:30

At 49:25 Mr. Bercot said, “The early Christians had no trouble talking about Jesus as the begotten God.”

Mr. Bercot is incorrect as the earliest Christians did not use the phrase “only begotten God.” The historical evidence proves that the earliest Christians cited John 1:18 as the “only begotten Son” rather than “only begotten God.” Origen appears to be the first Christian writer to cite John 1:18 as the “only begotten God” in about 230 AD. Since the earlier Christian writers cited John 1:18 as “only begotten Son” before “only begotten God” crept into the text, it makes sense that the earlier Christian writers would have correctly cited John 1:18 rather than Origen’s later citation of John 1:18.

Irenaeus cited John 1:18 as “only begotten Son” in the second century (about 180).

“For no man, he says, has seen God at any time, unless the only-begotten Son of God, which is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared [Him] (John 1:18). For He, the Son who is in His bosom, declares to all the Father who is invisible.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, book 3, chapter 6, New Advent Encyclopedia)

Clement of Alexandria cited or referenced John 1:18 as “only begotten Son” in about 200 AD (Padagogue I, 3; Stromata I, 26; Stromata V, 12). Hippolytus cited John 1:18 as “only begotten Son” in about 205 (Against Noetus V). Tertullian cited John 1:18 as “only begotten Son” in about 212 AD (Against Praxeus VIII). But Origen of Alexandria cited John 1:18 as “only begotten God” in about 230 AD (Origen’s Commentary of the Gospel of John, book 2, 24). Therefore the earliest manuscripts of John 1:18 which were cited by the earliest Christians had to have contained the words “only begotten Son” rather than the later interpolation cited by Origen of Alexandria in about 230 AD.

The Essence of Arianism

Mr. Bercot further stated that the essence of Arianism is to believe, “that there was a time when the Son of God did not exist.”

Play video clip from 5:20 – 5:27

Mr. Bercot later cited Tertullian as a true Trinitarian even though Tertullian wrote that “…there was a time when neither sin existed with him (the Father), nor the Son (Tertullian, Against Hermogenes, chapter 3).” Hence, according to Tertullian, there was a time when the Son did not exist with the Father as a living Son. Therefore Tertullian and other Semi-Arians like him could not have believed in the later Trinitarian theology which developed into an alleged timeless God the Son.

According to the famed church historian, Johannes Quasten, Origen’s later doctrine of a timeless eternal Son was “a remarkable advance in the development of theology and had a far reaching influence on ecclesiastical teaching (Quasten, Patrology Vol. 2, Page 78).”

Since it was Origen of Alexandria who first came up with the idea of a timeless eternal Son in about 230 AD, all of the earlier Christian writers could not have believed in an alleged timeless eternal Son. Therefore all of the early Christian writers that Mr. Bercot cited were not true Trinitarians because they believed like Arius in that “there was a time when the Son was not (“If the Father begat the Son, he that was begotten had a beginning of existence: and from this it is evident, that there was a time when the Son was not. It therefore necessarily follows, that he had his substance from nothing” - Quoted in Church History, by Socrates of Constantinople, Book I, Ch. 5).”

Play video clip from 45:30 – 46:41

At 45:30 into his lecture, Mr. Bercot actually cited Tertullian as a true Trinitarian even though he clearly believed in a Semi-Trinitarian form of Arianism.

He is made a second in manner of existence in position, not in nature. He did not withdraw from the original source but went forth. This is the begetting of the Son going forth from the Father to create the universe.”

If God the Father “made” the Son to be “a second manner of existence in position” then the Son of God could not have timelessly existed as an Almighty God Person. For how can the Almighty as the Almighty ever be “made” while remaining timeless? And how can the Almighty as the Almighty ever hold a second manner of existence or position under a greater God Person than Himself?

Mr. Bercot cited Tertullian and said, “You have two beings, one who commands that the things be made and the other who creates.”

Here Mr. Bercot cites Tertullian stating that one God Person commanded an inferior God Person to create all things for Him even though Hebrews 2:7 cites Psalm 8:5-6 to show that the Father appointed the Son to rule over the works of His hands.

“YOU HAVE MADE HIM FOR A LITTLE WHILE LOWER THAN THE ANGELS; YOU HAVE CROWNED HIM WITH GLORY AND HONOR, AND HAVE APPOINTED HIM OVER THE WORKS OF YOUR HANDS…” Heb. 2:7 NASB

Isaiah 64:8 (HCSB), “You are our Father; we are the clay, and You are our potter; we all are the work of Your hands.”

The prophet Isaiah confirms that the Father alone created us by the work of His invisible hands. If an alleged pre-incarnate God the Son created all things as the Father’s agent in creation, how then did God the Father appoint the Son over the works of His hands? Hence, the only way that Jesus could have created all things is as the Father before becoming a human Son (Heb. 1:10; Heb. 3:3-4). Therefore the Son is the man who was born in Bethlehem who could not have created anything as a Son.