(This information can be acquired in great detail from the book, Oneness and Trinity AD 100 - 300, By David K. Bernard, (used by permission from the author), Pentecostal Publishing House, 8855 Dunn Road, Hazelwood, Missouri).
Since it has been presumed by many that it is fact to say the early church writers after the death of the last of the 12 apostles, John, were trinitarians, we have compiled proof that they were more Modalistic than they were Trinitarian. Now, we are not to interpret biblical doctrine by reading the post-apostolic writings, but we can use them to simply help us see what beliefs were current among professing believers in those centuries.
It is embarrassing for proponents of the Trinity to recall that modern Trinitarians do not believe what most champions of Trinitarians in that era proposed. For example, in the third century these Trinitarians expressed their dogma using the language of tritheists and subordinationists who are considered as heretics today.
What beliefs do the early writers express? Oneness (Modalism) or Trinity?
I believe you will be interested to peruse the following:
Although Tertullian is looked upon as a man who wrote valuable history, though a heretic, this rhetorician is called the founder of Western Theology. (Klotsche, _The History of Christian Doctrine_)
The reason we speak first of him is that he was the first writer to refer to God as three Persons yet one substance. Tertullian was binitarian at first, and called the Holy Spirit the Word of God, in Against Praxeas (an anti-modalist letter).
Tertullian joined the Montanists in 207. It seems that the Montanists' influence on Tertullian influenced his thinking towards his version of the trinity, for they spoke much of the paraclete in more personal terms than Tertullian.
The man believed that the Son was inferior to the Father. So, although he is regarded as a father of Western Theology, Trinitarians would today call him a heretic. He compared the Son and the Spirit to angels in his defence of maintaining there is no division of the one substance of God in the trinity doctrine. He said that the angels are actually members of the Father's own substance, and since their existence does not destroy God's oneness, then neither does the Son and Spirit. (Against Praxeas, Chapter 3).
He believed the Trinitarian distinctions had a beginning and would have an ending. He felt that each Person of the Godhead had a bodily substance, bringing Tertullian next to tritheism.
Tertullian was the earliest Trinitarian as per the record of writings.
But if we maintain he was simply a good historian, read the following statements he made regarding the fact that Modalists outnumbered Trinitarians in his day.
Referring to Modalists and their doctrine:
The Four Major authors of writings immediately following the death of the last of the 12 apostles, John, were CLEMENT, IGNATIUS, POLYCARP and HERMAS.
It is claimed that Clement was trinitarian. Tertullian, a trinitarian, denounced the thought that God could suffer, but Clement wrote:
He clearly identified Jesus as God. Modern trinitarians disagree with their doctrinal father, Tertullian, here and say that God did suffer. Clement called the Father the Creator:
So, He called the Father our Creator, Saviour, and Lord. These are all titles of Jesus Christ!
The trinitarians of today place no such stress upon the Name as Oneness theology does.
That last phrase may allude to the Jesus Name baptismal formula, as does James 2:7, Acts 15:17 and Acts 22:16.
From I Clement, only TWO sentences may allude to a Trinity.
But when seeing an allusion to Eph. 4:4-6, which refers to one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one hope, and one God and father, Clement may have been stressing ONENESS and not THREENESS. Eph. 4:6 refers to the titles of Lord and Spirit as being those of the one God who is Father: "One God and Father of all, who is above all [i.e., who is Lord], and through all, and in you all [i.e., who is the Spirit in you]. In that sense, Clement's above phrase from his chapter 46, certainly is conducive to Oneness theology.
Chapter 58 exists in only one Greek manuscript, dated 1056, and is missing from the only other Greek MS available.
When you read the original Greek, the first part of the paragraph literally says,
It is NOT explicitly trinitarian. Notice the lack of use of the terms "Father" and "Son". These two titles are the unique names of the first two persons of trinitarianism. And directly before this passage, Clement wrote of God and His Name in the singular. Not NAMES as trinitarians imply Father, Son and Holy Ghost are, despite the fact that Matt 28:19 maintains ONE name common to all three.
What we have quoted speaks of God in the singular, which is conducive to Oneness, and it speaks of salvation we have from God through Jesus Christ, thus using a twofold reference instead of a threefold reference. Oneness accepts all of that. The particular passage focuses upon salvation. We see words like, "faith", "hope", "elect" and "being saved". The focus is not upon the context of the doctrine of God. We simply read of the living God and of the glorified Christ through whom God provided salvation and reveals Himself now and for eternity, and to the Holy Ghost regenerating people.
Ignatius equates Jesus with the One God so strongly that many historians called him modalistic. There are seven genuine letters from him remaining today, and six questionable ones from the fourth century and three questionable ones from the twelfth century.
It is told by Cyril Richardson (Early Christian Fathers) that the genuine letters are found in an abridged Syriac version, a long version splattered with fourth century interpolations, and a medium version which is most accurate.
The longer version, known to be full of interpolations, when compared with the Medium version always "corrects" statements which contradict trinitarianism and adds statements that are more in line with trinitarianism:
LONG VERSION (interpolated)
Ignatius wrote words testifying that Jesus was the One God manifest in the flesh, whereas third century trinitarians, like Origen, objected to calling Jesus God without qualification.
Ignatius specifically calls Jesus the indwelling Holy Spirit.
If we assume that he called God the Father (as read in John 17:3; 1 Cor. 8:6; 2 Cor. 1:2-3, and Eph. 4:6), Ignatius thought of Jesus as God the Father incarnate.
Epistle to the Ephesians:
Epistle to the Magnesians:
Epistle to the Trallians:
Epistle to the Romans:
Epistle to the Smyrnaeans:
Epistle to Polycarp:
Tertullian later ridiculed the Modalists for this very teaching! Trinitarians of the fourth century must have seen the "heresy" of Ignatius' statement here, because Longer Version is changed to read,
Ignatius called Christians the people of the Name of Jesus.
Just a FEW phrases may be interpreted as Trinitarian, but the same phrases are easily regarded as Oneness the manner that New Testament threefold references are taken.
Similar to II Cor. 13:14 and I Peter 1:2, we read from Ignatius in Ephesians 9 that God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are mentioned in distinguishing aspects of salvation.
Saints are, "prepared fro the building of God the Father, and drawn up on high by the instrument of Jesus Christ, which is the cross, making use of the Holy Spirit as a rope." We are thus said to be saved (designed to be God's Temple) through Jesus' atoning death which is applied to us by the regenerating work of the Holy Ghost.
This alludes to John 1:1 where Jesus is the eternal Word. "With" translated from Greek is "PARA" in the dative case. Thayer says this "indicates that something is or is done either in the immediate vicinity of some one, or (metaph) in his mind." (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 477). Since it was not distinctly trinitarian, later Trinitarians CHANGED the words to read, "He, being begotten by the Father before the beginning of time of time, was God the Word, the only-begotten Son."
Archbishop Wake translated Vossius' 1646 Greek text of Magnesians 6 in a VERY MODALISTIC FASHION:
How many other readings of Ignatius were deleted or interpolated? Only Magnesians 13 speaks of the Father, Son and Spirit together. And it encourages believers to abound in flesh and spirit, faith and love, in Son, Father, and Spirit. He wrote that believers be subject to the bishop and one another as the apostles were subject to Christ, the Father, and the Spirit and as Christ was subject to the Father. Notice how the threefold references disrupts the pattern of the twofold references. The threefold references may be looked at as God's manifestations for the purpose of redemption, but they may simply be additions. Here, the Longer Version is shorter than the Medium Version, and seems to be more along the line of Ignatius' original writings. In it there is no mention of prospering in the Father, Son and Spirit. It simply tells us to subject ourselves to the bishop as Christ was to the Father. Why else would trinitarians have so altered Ignatius' writings in the 4th century, than the fact that his writings simply did not support Trinitarianism?
The Epistle to the Tarsians was a false book attributed to Ignatius. It refutes Ignatius' own doctrine when it said,
Another 4th century forgery, deemed so by scholars, was called Epistle to the Philippians. It attempted to put anti-modalist statements in the mouth of Ignatius:
There is a denial that Christ is "God over all, and the Almighty"(7). Therefore, the writings of Ignatius wholly fit the Oneness doctrine. The only writings that contradict the Oneness are regarded as forgeries by scholars!
All we have of Polycarp is a brief Epistle to the Philippians. In it he recommended Ignatius' letters very highly, since he obviously agreed with their doctrine.
"The Epistles of Ignatius written by him to us, and all the rest (of his epistles) which we have by us, we have sent to you, as you requested. They are subjoined to this Epistle, and by them ye may be greatly profited" (13).
Only one passage in the letter COULD be regarded as trinitarian. It is found in chapter 12, which does not exist in the original Greek, and is only complete in Latin. Polycarp prayed,
Polycarp asked that God would bless those who "believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, and in His Father, who raised Him from the dead." Oneness accepts such language also as distinguishing between God the Father and the man Jesus. The man Jesus is our mediator who died for us. Notice how scripture stresses that the mediator is the MAN Jesus Christ, thus implying that we should not think of Jesus as Father in the case of dying for us, though He is Father (1 Tim 2:5). If Polycarp was trying to propose the trinity doctrine here he would have also mentioned the Holy Ghost as a third, coequal person in praying to Him, too, for help and letting us know that he depended on faith in the Spirit along with faith in the Father and Son.
Do not depend upon the Martyrdom of Polycarp for a reliable account of Polycarp since it is generally dated much later than the date of his death in 155 AD, and is full of untrustworthy accounts of fanciful miracles, such as Polycarp's body glowing like gold, silver and emitting sweet odours while he was burning on the stake. A dove supposedly left his body and the flames were quenched by his blood. Eusebius' version shows us that many interpolations were made to the letter when compared to other versions. Many trinitarian prayers are found in this spurious book. There are contradictory prayers and scholars admit they sound like "Eucharistic prayers of a later date" (Cyril Richardson, Early Christian Fathers, 143).
AGAIN, the only explicit trinitarian phrases attributed to Polycarp are found in, as is generally regarded, spurious letters.
The Hermas of The Shepherd is not the Hermas as found in Romans 16:14. The letter The Shepherd was written in 140-145 A.D. He is claimed to be the brother of Pius, Bishop of Rome, according to the Muratorian Fragment written in 170 A.D.
The Shepherd was a very popular book in the early days.
"First of all, believe that there is one God who created and finished all things" (Commandment 1).
The following may be used to support the pre-existent Son as a separate person:
He may have intended us to understand how the Son was then a plan in the mind of God, since he also called the church
After speaking of the flesh of Jesus as being indwelt by the Spirit of God and as the partner of the Spirit we read,
We seem to see that Hermas meant the Son here to be the flesh of Christ. And it seems to imply that the Son was a counsellor at the time of the incarnation.
If God spoke of the Son, in Hermas' mind, as being counselor in creation, God may have actually created humanity with the Son in view depending upon the future manifestation of the Son of God. When the Son would be manifested in the future, He would redeem fallen humanity and spiritually recreate believers. There is no definite and explicit note to refute that. And that is in accord with Modalism (Hebr. 1:1-3).
In Vision 3:9, Hermas equates the Lord with the Father. Hermas said the Holy Spirit was manifested to the world as the Son.
Hermas said water baptism was essential as was the name of God, The Holy Spirit, and holiness of life. (The United Pentecostal Church Int. agrees.) Hermas alluded to Jesus name baptism when he wrote:
This last phrase refers to baptism since Hermas wrote that only water baptism can remit sins (Com. 4:3).
Trinitarians have been known to point out that these writers do not explicitly identify Jesus as the Father. Therefore, trinitarians affirm, they were not Oneness. But Ignatius in fact did. Polycarp and Clement said that Jesus was the one God in the >biblical sense< and therefore implied that He is the Father incarnate.
In the Bible, the primary reason the title "Father" is used is to distinguish God from His Son. The Son was the man Christ Jesus, and God was incarnate in that man. These early post-apostolic writers simply carried on that pattern of the use of titles. Modern Oneness writers do the same.
Since Oneness regards the Trinity as error, Oneness writers also state that in order for Jesus to be God incarnate He must also be the Father incarnate.
That is the reason copyists interpolated Ignatius' writings.
Trinitarians will argue that the lack of such stress simply is due to the deeply ingrained doctrine in all believers at the time, making it unnecessary to speak of it explicitly. What they are saying is that Trinitarianism is PRESUMED rather than taught. If it was so ingrained and well understood, why then did later centuries have such a struggle in trying to define the Trinity? No. The scarce references to anything that may be deemed as trinitarian is due to the lack of special significance the authors placed on references to the titles, Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The formulation of the Trinity doctrine occurred much later in time, and therefore the people living at the time of the post-apostolic writings were not so confused by the ambiguous terms as people would be confused with today. Since the people did not think in a trinitarian manner back then, there was no chance for such statements to be regarded as trinitarian.
Hermas is questionable since he wrote about a pre-existent Son. Yet Trinitarians see a problem with his references which equate Jesus with the Holy Spirit. If Hermas is anything other than Oneness, he was a binitarian, believing in two persons, with one person subordinate to the first, and not three co-equal persons. Except for Hermas, these writers were staunchly monotheistic, centering all upon Christ (Christocentric). And these writers are certainly much closer to Oneness than to Trinity.
[For a complete study of post-biblical writings comparing Oneness content and Trinity content, see: David Bernard, _Oneness and Trinity AD 100-300_, Word Aflame Press, ISBN 0-932581-81-1, from which these posts were paraphrased].