« Antitactæ Antitrinitarianism Anton, Paul »



The Earliest Antitrinitarianism (§ 1).

Monarchianism and Other Forms to the Reformation (§ 2).

Antitrinitarianism in Great Britain (§ 3).

In New England (§ 4).

Antitrinitarianism of the Present (§ 5).

Antitrinitarianism is the general name for a number of very different views which agree only in rejecting the Christian doctrine of the Triune God. This doctrine did not originate in the extra-Christian world, but, with whatever adumbrations in the Old Testament revelation (cf. Dorner, System of Christian Doctrine, i., Edinburgh, 1880, pp. 345 sqq.), was first distinctly revealed in the missions of the Son and Spirit, and first clearly taught by Jesus (cf. W. Sanday, The Criticism of the Fourth Gospel, London, 1905, pp. 218 sqq.) and his apostles. It naturally, therefore, as a purely Christian doctrine, had to establish itself against both Jewish and heathen conceptions; and throughout its history it has met with more or less contradiction from the two opposite points of view of modalism (which tends to sink the persons in the unity of the Godhead) and subordinationism (which tends to degrade the second and third persons into creatures).

1. The Earliest Antitrinitarianism.

The earliest antitrinitarians were those Jews who in the first age of the Church were convinced, indeed, that Jesus was the promised Messiah, but, in their jealously guarded monotheism, could not admit him to be God, and taught therefore a purely humanitarian Christology. They bear the name in history of Ebionites. The emanationism of the Gnostic sects, which swarmed throughout the second century, tended to subordinationism; and this tendency is inherent also in the Logos speculation by which the Christological thought of the Church teachers through the second and third centuries was dominated. The Logos speculation was not, however, consciously antitrinitarian; its purpose was, on the contrary, to construe the Church’s immanent faith in the Trinity to thought, and to that end it suggested a descending series of gradations of deity by which the transcendent God (the Father) 204 stretched out to the creation and government of the world (Son and Spirit). This subordinationism, however, bore bitter fruit in the early fourth century in the Arian degradation of the Son to a creature and of the Spirit to the creature of a creature.

2. Monarchianism and Other Forms to the Reformation.

The ripening of this fruit was retarded by the outbreak, as the second century melted into the third, of the first great consciously antitrinitarian movement in the bosom of the Church. This movement, which is known in history as Monarchianism arose in Asia Minor and rapidly spread over the whole Church. In its earliest form as taught by the two Theodoti and Artemon, and in its highest development by Paul of Samosata, it conceived of Jesus as a mere man. In this form it was too alien to Christian feeling to make much headway; and it was quickly followed by another wave which went to the other extreme and made the Father, Son, and Spirit but three modes of being, manifestations, or actions of the one person which God was conceived to be. In this form it was taught first by Praxeas and Noetus and found its fullest expression in Sabellius, who has given his name to it. The lower form is commonly called Ebionitic or dynamistic Monarchianism; the higher, modalistic Monarchianism or, to use the nickname employed by Tertullian, Patripassianism. Modalistic Monarchianism came forward in the interests of the true deity of Christ, and, appearing to offer a clear and easy solution of the antinomy of the unity of God and the deity of the Son and Spirit, made its way with great rapidity, and early in the third century seemed to threaten to become the faith of the Church. It was partly in reaction from it that the Arians in the early fourth century pressed the subordinationism of much early church teaching to the extreme of removing the Son and Spirit out of the category of deity altogether, and thus created the greatest and most dangerous antitrinitarian movement the Church has ever known. The interaction of the modalistic and Arian factors brought it about that the statement of the doctrine of the Trinity wrought out in the ensuing controversies was guarded on both sides; and so well was the work done that the Church was little troubled by antitrinitarian opposition for a thousand years thereafter. During the Middle Ages the obscure dualistic and pantheistic sects, it is true, held to antitrinitarian doctrines of God; but within the Church itself defective conceptions of the Trinity, resting commonly on a pantheistic basis, manifested themselves rather in theological tendencies than in distinct parties (e.g., Johannes Scotus Erigena; other tendencies in Roscelin and Abelard). In the great upheaval of the Reformation the antitrinitarianism of the obscure sects came into open view in the Anabaptist movement (Denk, Hätzer, Melchior Hofmann, David Joris, Johannes Campanus). At the head of the pantheistic antitrinitarianism of the Reformation era, however, stands Michael Servetus, and though his type of thought soon passed into the background, it was destined to be revived whenever mystical tendencies waxed strong (Boehme, Zinzendorf, Swedenborg). Meanwhile Laelius and Faustus Socinus succeeded in forming an organized sect of rationalistic antitrinitarians who found a refuge in Poland, established a famous university, issued symbolical documents (the chief of which is the Racovian Catechism, 1605), and created an influential literature (Schlichting, Volkel, the two Crells, Ostorodt, Schmalz, Wolzogen, Wiszowati).

3. Antitrinitarianism in Great Britain.

By the middle of the seventeenth century the Socinian establishment at Racow was broken up, but the influence of the type of thought it represented has continued until the present day. In Transylvania, indeed, the old Unitarian organization dating from the labors of Blandrata and David still exists. Elsewhere antitrinitarianism has crept in by way of more or less covert innovations representing themselves as “liberal,” and running commonly through the stages of Arminianism and Arianism to Socinianism. In England, for example, a wide-spread hesitancy with regard to the doctrine of the Trinity was observable before the end of the seventeenth century, manifesting itself no less in the high subordinationism of writers like George Bull than in the frank Arianism of others like Samuel Clarke. It was not until 1774, however, that the first Unitarian chapel distinctly known as such was founded (Theophilus Lindsey), though this type of thought was rapidly permeating the community under the influence of men of genius like Joseph Priestly and men of learning like Nathaniel Lardner; and before the end of the second decade of the nineteenth century, a large body of the foremost Presbyterian congregations had become avowedly Unitarian. A somewhat similar history was wrought out in Ireland, where after a protracted controversy the Synod of Ulster was divided in 1827 on this question, W. Bruce leading the Unitarian party.

4. In New England.

By the middle of the eighteenth century, the prevalent attitude of suspicion with regard to the doctrine of the Trinity had communicated itself to the New England churches, and soon an antitrinitarian movement, developing out of the lingering Arminianism, was in full swing, which from 1815 received the name of Unitarianism. The consequent controversy reached its height in 1819, the date of the publication of W. E. Channing’s sermon at the ordination of Jared Sparks at Baltimore, and was virtually over by 1833. The result was a body of definitely antitrinitarian churches bound together on this general basis, whose leaders have illustrated, on every possible philosophical foundation, every possible variety of antitrinitarianism from the highest modalism or Arianism down (and increasingly universally so as time has passed) to the lowest Socinianism.

5. Antitrinitarianism of the Present.

Meanwhile the “liberal” tendencies of modern theological thought have produced throughout Christendom a very large number of theological teachers who, while not separating themselves from the trinitarian churches, are definitely antitrinitarian 205 trinitarian in their doctrine of God. Accordingly, although the organized Unitarian churches, which were earlier not unproductive of men of high quality (e.g., John James Tayler, James Martineau, James Drummond, in England; Theodore Parker, Andrews Norton, Ezra Abbot, A. P. Peabody, F. H. Hedge, James Freeman Clarke, in America), show no large power of growth, it is probable that at no period in the history of the Christian Church has there been a more distinguished body of antitrinitarian teachers within its fold. Every variety of antitrinitarianism finds its representatives among them. The Arian tendency is, indeed, discoverable chiefly in the high subordinationism of men who do not wish to break with the church doctrine of the Trinity (Franck, Twesten, Kahnis, Meyer, Beck, Doedes, Van Oosterzee), though a true Arianism is not unexampled (Hofstede de Groot). In sequence to the constructions of Kant and his idealistic successors, a great number of recent theologians from Schleiermacher down have stated their doctrine of God in terms of one or another form of modalism (De Wette, Hase, Nitzsch, Rothe, Biedermann, Lipsius, Pfleiderer, Kaftan), though sometimes, or of late ordinarily, this modalism is indistinguishable from Socinianism, allowing only a “Trinity of revelation"—of God in nature (the Creation), in history (Christ), and in the conscience (the Church). Consonant with the general drift of modern thought this recent antitrinitarianism is commonly, however, frankly Socinian, and recognizes only a monadistic Godhead and only a human Jesus (cf. A. B. Bruce, The Humiliation of Christ, Edinburgh, 1881, Lecture v.; James Orr, The Christian View of God and the World, Edinburgh, 1903, Lecture vii., and notes). The most striking instance of this bald Socinianism is furnished probably by A. Ritschl, but a no less characteristic example is afforded by W. Beyschlag, who admits only an ideal preexistence in the thought of God for Jesus Christ, and affirms of the Holy Spirit that the representation that he is a third divine person “is one of the most disastrous importations into the Holy Scriptures.” See Ritschl, Albrecht Benjamin; Trinity.

Benjamin B. Warfield.

Bibliography: J. H. Allen, Historical Sketch of the Unitarian Movement since the Reformation, New York, 1894 (in American Church History Series); F. S. Bock, Historia Antitrinitariorum, 2 vols., Königsberg, 1774-84; L. Lange, Geschichte und Entwickelung der Systeme der Unitarier vor der Nicänischen Synode, Leipsic, 1831; F. Trechsel, Die protestantischen Antitrinitarier vor Socin, Heidelberg, 1839-44; O. Fock, Der Socinianismus nach seiner Stellung in der Gesammtentwickelung des christlichen Geistes, Kiel, 1847; R. Wallace, Antitrinitarian Biography, 3 vols., London, 1850. See also under Arianism; Ebionites; Monarchianism; Socinus (Faustus), Socinians; Unitarians; and cf. the treatment of these movements in the Church histories.

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