“Who do men say I am?” Jesus posed the question to his disciples as they went out to the towns of Caesarea Philippi. John the Baptist, Elijah or other of the prophets, they answered.
“But who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked them. And while 11 of the 12 disciples were uncertain, Peter responded, “You are the Christ.”
This account, taken from the Gospel According to Mark, appears in slightly different form in Matthew and Luke, the other two synoptic gospels. What is noteworthy is that in none of the accounts does Jesus say He is other than the Son of God.
He does not say He is, at once, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
It is because of that ambiguity that in 325 AD the Roman emperor Constantine the Great – who reputedly converted to Christianity 13 years earlier – summoned some 300 bishops of the post-Apostolic church – including Philocalus of Caesarea Philippi – to the lakeside city of Nicaea to decide who the church believed Jesus to be.
And 1,690 years ago this past week, the so-called First Council of Nicaea concluded two months of ecumenical debate with the decision that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one and the same.
That bestowed the church’s official imprimatur upon the disputed doctrine of trinitarianism, leaving a mark on Christendom that endures to this very day.
Indeed, those who refused to accept the conclusions at Nicaea were condemned as heretics – like Arius, the Alexandrian presbyter who accepted the divinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but who challenged the idea of a triune “godhead” made up of three coequal, coeternal supreme beings.
Arius believed God the Alpha and the Omega; the beginning and the ending; the One Who was, Who is, and is to come; the Almighty.
He believed Jesus to be, “the first born of all creation,” the “only begotten Son of God.” He held that Jesus and God were of like essence, but not the same essence. He also taught that Jesus was perfect and unchanging; that He was in all things subject and obedient to the Father; that He was sent to earth to take away the sin of the world.
As to the Holy Spirit, Arius did not think it an actual being, but the illuminating and sanctifying power of God, which was indeed divine, but unequal to either the Father or the Son.
In today’s Christian church, be it Roman Catholic or Protestant, those who bend towards the Arian view, who question the “mystery” of the Trinity – that “the Lord is one,” yet He manifests Himself as three distinct beings – are perceived as having theological views that border on the blasphemous.
But the Trinitarian doctrine is extremely problematic. It requires those who read the Word of God to convince themselves that it doesn’t really mean what it plainly says with respect to the relationship between God and the Son of God.
Indeed, if Jesus is God, and God Jesus, as most Christian churches espouse today, why did Jesus say, in the Gospel According to John, “I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I.”?
Why did Jesus advise his disciples, in the Gospel According to Mark, all would one day see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory, but that of that day and hour no one knows, “not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the father.”
Then there’s the passion of Christ, from the Garden of Gethsemane to the cross at Golgotha.
As the Lord prayed in the garden, He cried out, according to Mark’s gospel, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.”
Then on the cross, the Gospel of Matthew tells us that, about the ninth hour Jesus cried out, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
If Jesus and God were one and the same being, then the Lord need not have asked the Father to spare Him the ordeal that awaited. He could have decided so Himself. And he needn’t have asked God why He had forsaken Him. Because He would have been asking Himself why He had forsaken Himself.
Because the Trinitarian doctrine has been accepted wisdom in Christendom since the First Council of Nicaea nearly 1,700 years ago, we accept it today as gospel truth. But it is abundantly clear, not from church traditions, but from the words of Christ Himself, that the doctrine is wrong.