Varieties of Trinitarian and Non-trinitarian Beliefs

Jerry Bergman, Ph. D.

(Investigator 89, 2003 March)



In theology, many different beliefs exist even about the basic Christian doctrines. For example, the doctrine of the trinity now exists in a number of varieties most of which have been popular in certain circles at one time or another throughout history. Some of the major historical views are briefly outlined below. Other variations, aside from the classifications listed here, exist, and only the more important positions are given here.

Angelism.

The belief that only the Father is God and the Son and the Holy Spirit are angels who, because of their good work, have been promoted to a higher position among angels but are still identical in substance to other angels.

Anomoean

The extreme Arian party that opposed not only the Homoiousian but also Heterousian and Homoian descriptions of the relation of the Son to the Father (see below).  This school of thought held that the Son was not only of different essence and substance from the Father, but also was in other ways unlike him in such areas as personality, purpose, etc.

Apollinarianism

A belief first expounded by Apollinaris of Laodicea which taught that Christ had both a human body and a human soul, but not a human mind or spirit. For Christ, the divine logos replaced the "human rational soul" as the source of His self-consciousness.

Arianism  (From the name Arius)

A movement, led by Eusebius of Nicomedia, that taught Christ was in some ways less or lower than the Father and he did not exist from forever in the past. The main divisions of Arianism, are the Anomonians, the semi-Arians or the Momoiousian party, and the Homoians.  Arius famous saying is that there was a time when the Son was not, since the Father who begets must have existed before the Son, who was begotten. Therefore, he concluded, the Son could not be eternal with the Father.

Dualism

The belief that Jesus and God are co-equal and both Jesus and God are equally the Supreme God. This is a very common belief today. The Holy Spirit is often not included as part of the Godhead.

Extreme monotheism

The belief that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are only different names for the same person, much as most people in Western society have a first, a middle, and a last name.  God likewise has a first name (Jesus), a middle name (Holy Spirit), and a last name (God).  According to this belief neither three persons nor three of anything except names exist.

Homoians

A group who are opposed to using the term Homousioua (meaning of the same substance) to describe the relationship between the Father and Son. They affirm that the Son is like the Father, but not identical.  Furthermore, they do not specify the exact metaphysical relationship, only that Father and Son are similar.

Homoiousian

A Greek term meaning like or similar referring to the belief that the Son is like but not of the exact same essence as the Father.

Homoousios

Greek word meaning consubstantial or of the same essence or substance. This refers to the belief that the Father and the Son are of the same substance, numerically identical, and indivisible, in contrast to the belief that they are of a different substance.

Modalism

The belief that the members or persons of the trinity are not three distinct personalities, but simply different manifestations and/or different names or titles for one and the same divine being. Thus, a distinction of persons in the trinity would exist only when the Creator or another specific role is being performed. God is Jesus in some situations, but He would be the Father when performing another task. The first well-known advocate of Modalism was Sebellius, a Presbyter of Ptolemias who lived in the middle of the third century.  This view is similar to monarchianism as first taught during the time of Origin.

Monarchianism

A doctrine popular in the second and third century church, stressing the unity (monarchia) of the divine nature as opposed to the tendency to affirm personality differences within the trinity.  Two basic types of Monarchianism include a Dynamistic form, or the teaching that Christ was a mere man who was adopted by God, and thereby became a son of God, and Modalism, which taught that the three persons of the trinity were but modes or different manifestations of the one God. McClintock's and Strong's Cyclopedia  (pp. 448, Vol. 6) claims that Monarchianism can be traced to the very earliest times of Christianity.

Monophysitism

A Doctrine which teaches that Christ was both totally divine and human, and that both natures were fused during His physical life on Earth. The doctrine arose in objection to the two-nature doctrine of Christ's nature, and stresses that Christ does not have a human and a divine nature, but possessed only one nature during his physical life. Also, Christ’s earthly body, being the body of God, was not the same as a human body. The two natures were so united that, in essence, they became one.

Mysteryism

The belief that humans can never fully understand such concepts as God or the trinity; furthermore it is impious to assume that one can, and thus it is wrong to even try.  These areas will remain everlasting mysteries and we should not attempt to dissect them.  We should rather, accept the fact that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one God. It is appropriate to discuss this issue to realize that to understand their nature and relationship is fruitless.

Patripassianism

The doctrine that teaches since Christ and the Father are the same person, both the redemptive suffering, and all suffering of Christ was also the suffering of God the Father. This doctrine flourished during the second and third centuries, C.E.

Russellism

The Russellite system was first expounded by Charles Taze Russell, and is believed by scores of different religious groups today including the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Essentially it teaches that the Father is the Supreme God, Christ is a lesser God, a mighty God not the almighty God the Father (thus this view is polytheistic) and the Holy Spirit is God's active force. It is believed that Christ preexisted his earthy existence but was God's first creation, thus is a god and will always exist as such.  Christ and God are not equal in substance, but united in purpose they are both perfect God just is, but Christ earned and merited the role and glory that he now possesses.

Socinianism

A set of doctrines that took the name of one of its most influential thinkers Faustus Socinus. Socinianism is the belief that Jesus was in many ways a typical man, but yet was also a unique man, displaying in an unprecedented manner the higher characteristics of human nature that, in essence, made him a shadow of the divine nature.  He was thus properly called the Son of God. His full commission was given during one or more extensive personal interviews with God, such as during the forty days in the wilderness.  He was then anointed to the position Son of God, and later raised from the dead by God and delegated to a supreme authority over men and angels. He is a created being and worship should be rendered to him only as a representative of God, not from his own right. Although he is a very exalted saint and moral teacher, he is still a man, and nothing more.

Theodtians

Named after Theodtus who lived during the last part of the 2nd century, this position teaches that Jesus was born fully a man and remained such until his baptism when the higher Christ descended upon Him. He then became God, the Supreme God, who is separate from Christ, the Creator of the world.  Some theodtians also taught that God the Father was superior to the God of the Jews, i.e., Jehovah was a weaker God than the Supreme God or the Father.

Theopaschitism

The belief that only one nature exists in both Christ and God; thus when Christ was crucified, God was also crucified, but yet they are different beings.

Trinitarianism  (Athanasian Creed formulation)

The belief that God eternally exists in three separate persons, the father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The three persons, according to the Athananasian Creed, are three persons in actions but not in body.  The persons are eternally co-existent, omnipotent, and omnipresent.  


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