THE EARLY CHURCH AND THE DIVINITY OF CHRIST

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The earliest image of a bearded Christ in the catacombs of Commodilla on the Via Ostiensis in Rome.

If the anti-Catholics are still doubtful on the divinity of Jesus Christ despite the biblical proof texts presented before them, then it is better to consult the history as to what really the early Christians believed concerning the divinity of Christ.

Ignatius, bishop of Antioch

“Ignatius, also called Theophorus, to the Church at Ephesus in Asia . . . predestined from eternity for a glory that is lasting and unchanging, united and chosen through true suffering by the will of the Father in Jesus Christ our God” (Letter to the Ephesians 1 [A.D. 110]).

“For our God, Jesus Christ, was conceived by Mary in accord with God’s plan: of the seed of David, it is true, but also of the Holy Spirit” (ibid., 18:2).

“[T]o the Church beloved and enlightened after the love of Jesus Christ, our God, by the will of him that has willed everything which is” (Letter to the Romans 1 [A.D. 110]).

Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna

“Now may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the eternal High Priest Himself, the God Jesus Christ, build you up in the faith […]”(Epistle to the Church at Philippi, 12 [A.D. 110])

Aristides, apologist

“[Christians] are they who, above every people of the earth, have found the truth, for they acknowledge God, the Creator and maker of all things, in the only-begotten Son and in the Holy Spirit” (Apology 16 [A.D. 140]).

Justin Martyr, apologist

“The word of wisdom, who is himself God begotten of the Father of all things, and word, and wisdom, and power, and the glory of the begetter, will bear evidence to me”.(Dialogue with Tropho Ch.61, [A.D. 150])

“God speaks in the creation of man with the very same design, in the following words: ‘Let us make man after our image and likeness’ . . . I shall quote again the words narrated by Moses himself, from which we can indisputably learn that [God] conversed with someone numerically distinct from himself and also a rational being. . . . But this Offspring who was truly brought forth from the Father, was with the Father before all the creatures, and the Father communed with him” (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 62 [A.D. 150]).

“For Christ is King, and Priest, and God and Lord…”(Dialogue With Trypho, 34 [A.D. 150])

“…He preexisted as the Son of theCreator of things, being God, and that He was born a man by the Virgin.” (Dialogue With Trypho, 48 [A.D. 150])

“We will prove that we worship him reasonably; for we have learned that he is the Son of the true God Himself, that he holds a second place, and the Spirit of prophecy a third. For this they accuse us of madness, saying that we attribute to a crucified man a place second to the unchangeable and eternal God, the Creator of all things; but they are ignorant of the Mystery which lies therein” (First Apology 13:5-6 [A.D. 155]).

Tatian the Assyrian, writer and theologian

“We are not playing the fool, you Greeks, nor do we talk nonsense, when we report that God was born in the form of a man” (Address to the Greeks 21 [A.D. 170]).

Athenagoras, apologist

“. . . they hold the Father to be God, and the Son God, and the Holy Spirit, and declare their union and their distinction in order.”(A plea for the Christians.10.3 [A.D. 177])

Melito, bishop of Sardis

“It is no way necessary in dealing with persons of intelligence to adduce the actions of Christ after his baptism as proof that his soul and his body, his human nature, were like ours, real and not phantasmal. The activities of Christ after his baptism, and especially his miracles, gave indication and assurance to the world of the deity hidden in his flesh. Being God and likewise perfect man, he gave positive indications of his two natures: of his deity, by the miracles during the three years following after his baptism, of his humanity, in the thirty years which came before his baptism, during which, by reason of his condition according to the flesh, he concealed the signs of his deity, although he was the true God existing before the ages” (Fragment in Anastasius of Sinai’s The Guide 13 [A.D. 177]).

Caius, presbyter of Rome

“Perhaps what they allege might be credible, did not the Holy Scriptures, in the first place, contradict them. And then, besides, there are writings of certain brethren older than the times of Victor, which they wrote against the heathen in defense of the truth, and against the heresies of their time: I mean Justin and Miltiades, and Tatian and Clement, and many others, in all which divinity is ascribed to Christ. For who is ignorant of the books of Irenaeus and Melito, and the rest, which declare Christ to be God and man? All the psalms, too, and hymns of brethren, which have been written from the beginning by the faithful, celebrateChrist the Word of God, ascribing divinity to Him.” (Caius, Fragments, 2.1 [A.D. 180])

Irenaeus, bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul

“For the Church, although dispersed throughout the whole world even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and from their disciples the faith in one God, Father Almighty, the creator of heaven and earth and sea and all that is in them; and in one Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became flesh for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who announced through the prophets the dispensations and the comings, and the birth from a Virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the bodily ascension into heaven of the beloved Christ Jesus our Lord, and his coming from heaven in the glory of the Father to reestablish all things; and the raising up again of all flesh of all humanity, in order that to Jesus Christ our Lord and God and Savior and King, in accord with the approval of the invisible Father, every knee shall bend of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth . . . “ (Against Heresies 1:10:1 [A.D. 189]).

“Nevertheless, what cannot be said of anyone else who ever lived, that he is himself in his own right God and Lord . . . may be seen by all who have attained to even a small portion of the truth” (ibid., 3:19:1).

Clement of Alexandria, theologian

“The Word, then, the Christ, is the cause both of our ancient beginning—for he was in God—and of our well-being. And now this same Word has appeared as man. He alone is both God and man, and the source of all our good things” (Exhortation to the Greeks 1:7:1 [A.D. 190]).

“Despised as to appearance but in reality adored, [Jesus is] the expiator, the Savior, the soother, the divine Word, he that is quite evidently true God, he that is put on a level with the Lord of the universe because he was his Son” (ibid., 10:110:1).

Tertullian, theologian

“The origins of both his substances display him as man and as God: from the one, born, and from the other, not born” (The Flesh of Christ 5:6–7 [A.D. 210]).

“That there are two gods and two Lords, however, is a statement which we will never allow to issue from our mouth; not as if the Father and the Son were not God, nor the Spirit God, and each of them God; but formerly two were spoken of as gods and two as Lords, so that when Christ would come, he might both be acknowledged as God and be called Lord, because he is the Son of him who is both God and Lord” (Against Praxeas 13:6 [A.D. 216]).

Origen, theologian

“Although he was God, he took flesh; and having been made man, he remained what he was: God” (The Fundamental Doctrines 1:0:4 [A.D. 225]).

Hippolytus, presbyter of Rome

“God the Word came down from heaven[…] He came forth into the world and […] showed Himself to be God” (Against the Heresy of a Certain Noetus, 17 [A.D. 200]).

“Only [God’s] Word is from himself and is therefore also God, becoming the substance of God” (Refutation of All Heresies 10:33 [A.D. 228]).

“For Christ is the God over all, who has arranged to wash away sin from mankind, rendering the old man new” (ibid., 10:34).

Novatian, presbyter of Rome

“If Christ was only man, why did he lay down for us such a rule of believing as that in which he said, ‘And this is life eternal, that they should know you, the only and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent?’ [John 17:3]. Had he not wished that he also should be understood to be God, why did he add, ‘And Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent,’ except because he wished to be received as God also? Because if he had not wished to be understood to be God, he would have added, ‘And the man Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent;’ but, in fact, he neither added this, nor did Christ deliver himself to us as man only, but associated himself with God, as he wished to be understood by this conjunction to be God also, as he is. We must therefore believe, according to the rule prescribed, on the Lord, the one true God, and consequently on him whom he has sent, Jesus Christ, who by no means, as we have said, would have linked himself to the Father had he not wished to be understood to be God also. For he would have separated himself from him had he not wished to be understood to be God” (Treatise on the Trinity 16 [A.D. 235]).

Cyprian, bishop of Carthage

“One who denies that Christ is God cannot become his temple [of the Holy Spirit] . . . “ (Letters 73:12 [A.D. 253]).

Gregory Thaumaturgus, bishop of Caesarea

“There is one God, the Father of the living Word, who is his subsistent wisdom and power and eternal image: perfect begetter of the perfect begotten, Father of the only-begotten Son. There is one Lord, only of the only, God of God, image and likeness of deity, efficient Word, wisdom comprehensive of the constitution of all things, and power formative of the whole creation, true Son of true Father, invisible of invisible, and incorruptible of incorruptible, and immortal of immortal and eternal of eternal. . . . And thus neither was the Son ever wanting to the Father, nor the Spirit to the Son; but without variation and without change, the same Trinity abides ever” (Declaration of Faith [A.D. 265]).

Arnobius of Sicca, apologist

“‘Well, then,’ some raging, angry, and excited man will say, ‘is that Christ your God?’ ‘God indeed,’ we shall answer, ‘and God of the hidden powers’” (Against the Pagans 1:42 [A.D. 305]).

Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius, author

“He was made both Son of God in the spirit and Son of man in the flesh, that is, both God and man” (Divine Institutes 4:13:5 [A.D. 307]).

“We, on the other hand, are [truly] religious, who make our supplications to the one true God. Someone may perhaps ask how, when we say that we worship one God only, we nevertheless assert that there are two, God the Father and God the Son—which assertion has driven many into the greatest error . . . [thinking] that we confess that there is another God, and that he is mortal. . . . [But w]hen we speak of God the Father and God the Son, we do not speak of them as different, nor do we separate each, because the Father cannot exist without the Son, nor can the Son be separated from the Father” (ibid., 4:28–29).

First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea

“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in being with the Father. Through him all things were made” (Creed of Nicaea [A.D. 325]).

Patrick, bishop of Ireland

“Jesus Christ is the Lord and God in whom we believe, and whose coming we expect will soon take place, the judge of the living and the dead, who will render to everyone according to his works” (Confession of St. Patrick 4 [A.D. 452]).

HOWEVER, the late Emperor Constantine I, in particular, is blamed for being the very person who promoted Jesus to the level of deity, a feat of cosmic proportions that he managed to pull off at the first Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. As Dan Brown put it (through the lips of one of his literary characters): “Jesus’ establishment as ‘the Son of God’ was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea […] By officially endorsing Jesus as the Son of God, Constantine turned Jesus into a deity who existed beyond the scope of the human world, an entity whose power was unchallengeable” (The Da Vinci Code, 253). The question is, “Was the doctrine of Christ’s diety just invented at the Nicene Council during the reign of Constantine?”

That is, of course, absurd! For the early Christians had demonstrated their belief in the divinity of Christ as shown in their writings like the ones presented herein. These are Christians who lived before the reign of Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicaea. Even the pagan Romans did, in fact, witness how the early Christians worshipped Jesus as God. In the letter to Roman Emperor Trajan (x, 96-97) written by Pliny the Younger, governor of Pontus/Bithynia from A.D. 111-113, he said: “They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so.” Here, Pliny dealt with a situation that was in full swing — Christians refused to acknowledge the Roman emperor as god, but instead worshipped a man called Christ. But what really happened in the first Council of Nicaea?

The Council of Nicaea was convened to settle certain theological controveries especially on the relationship of Christ to the Father as brought to question by a presbyter from Alexandria named Arius. The presbyter Arius heretically taught that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who did not always exist, but was just created by — and is therefore entirely distinct from and subordinate to the God the Father. The Council condemned this Arian heresy and defined that both Father and His only begotten (neither made nor created) Son existed always together, eternally, co-equally and consubstantially. However, be reminded that the purpose of the Council is not to declare Jesus as divine because that is already an established doctrine of Christianity since the first century; instead, the bishops were gathered together in the Council to be firm in faith and defend the true apostolic teachings against the heretics.

The Council of Nicaea infallibly decreed: “And whosoever shall say that there was a time when the Son of God was not (ἤν ποτε ὅτε οὐκ ἦν), or that before he was begotten he was not, or that he was made of things that were not, or that he is of a different substance or essence [from the Father] or that he is a creature, or subject to change or conversion — all that so say, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them.”

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