trinitarian or unitarian? 9 – Hippolytus’s two-stage logos theory

lonely tree in the snow Hippolytus (c. 170-236) is an interesting, if obscure character. He was a presbyter in Rome, and on some reports, was a bishop of Rome – either a pope on an anti-pope, depending on how you look at it (he would have been a rival bishop, if this is true, to either Zephyrinus or Callistus). (See the entry on him in this book, pp. 164-5)

He was especially concerned to combat “monarchian” theology. In my view, it is a huge undertaking to get clear what on just what “monarchian” theology was all about. In any case, it is clear that the Hippolytus re-asserts the two-stage logos theory against it, the same sort of theory we saw  in Ireneaus. He may have been a disciple of Irenaeus.

God, subsisting alone, and having nothing contemporaneous with Himself, determined to create the world. …but He, while existing alone, yet existed in plurality. For He was neither without reason, nor wisdom, nor power, nor counsel. And all things were in Him, and He was the All. When He willed, and as He willed, He manifested His word in the times determined by Him, and by Him [the Word] He made all things. …He begat the Word… And thus there appeared another beside Himself. But when I say another, I do not mean that there are two Gods, but that it is only as light of light, or as water from a fountain, or as a ray from the sun. …And this is the mind which came forth into the world, and was manifested as the Son of God. All things, then, are by Him [the Son] and He alone is of the Father. (Against the Heresy of Noetus 10-1, p. 227, original italics, bold added)

At the end here, he uses Philo’s analogies – his point being that this Word is of the same nature as God – and yet not so as to make a second God. His divinity is of a lesser sort – he comes from God, whereas God doesn’t come from anything.

Unless you think that a mighty self could have once been a mere attribute of something, this implies that the Son began to exist a finite time ago. Again, we see the sort of “subordinationism” for which the “Arians” were later pilloried. Really, only the language is different (the Son here comes to be out of God rather than out of nothing – which is all the same, for he’s not made by re-arranging pre-existing material either way – and is not called a “creature”). However you label it, though, this making-to-exist is a free act of the Father. Thus, we do not have two equal beings, eternally sharing an essence, in this theology.

But you will say to me, How is He [the Son/Logos] begotten? In your own case, you can give no explanation of the way in which you were begotten, although you see every day the cause according to man; neither can you tell with accuracy the economy of His case. …you are asking an account of the generation of the Word, whom God the Father in His good pleasure begat as He willed. …Is it not enough for you to learn that the Son of God has been manifested to you for salvation if you believe…?  (16, p. 229, bold added)

All of this implies that he is not a trinitarian. But is he a unitarian – a Christian who identifies the one God with the Father (and not also with the Son or Spirit)?

About Dale

Dale Tuggy is a Professor of Philosophy at SUNY Fredonia, where he teaches courses in analytic theology, philosophy of religion, religious studies, and the history of philosophy.

4 Responses to trinitarian or unitarian? 9 – Hippolytus’s two-stage logos theory

  1. Helez says:

    Sounds simular to the language of Tertullian (c. 160-225), the oldest extant Latin writer to use the term trinitas. He wrote:

    “we should not suppose that there is any other being than God alone who is unbegotten and uncreated. For if that, which from its being inherent in the Lord was of Him and in Him, was yet not without a beginning,—I mean His wisdom, which was then born and created, when in the thought of God It began to assume motion for the arrangement of His creative works,—how much more impossible is it that anything should have been without a beginning which was extrinsic to the Lord! But if this same Wisdom is the Word of God, in the capacity of Wisdom, and (as being He) without whom nothing was made, just as also (nothing) was set in order without Wisdom, how can it be that anything, except the Father, should be older, and on this account indeed nobler, than the Son of God, the only-begotten and first-begotten Word? Not to say that what is unbegotten is stronger than that which is born, and what is not made more powerful than that which is made. Because that which did not require a Maker to give it existence, will be much more elevated in rank than that which had an author to bring it into being.” (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume III, Chapter XVIII.)

  2. villanovanus says:

    First of all, let’s provide the links to the cited book The SCM Press A-Z of Patristic Theology, by John Anthony McGuckin, 2005, and to the entry on Hippolytus of Rome at pp. 164-5.

    Second, it is quite clear what sort of monarchian theology Hyppolitus’ “was especially concerned to combat”: modalistic monarchianism, the doctrine of Sabellius and of Noetus, that he explicitly “combated”, by opposing to it the Logos theology of the Gospel of John, understood NOT allegorically, BUT essentially, albeit NOT personally, before the Incarnation.

    With reference to Hyppolitus’ quotation (from his Against the Heresy of One Noetus , § 10-11), only the trinitarian bias of the editor, Philip Schaff (evidenced by all those capitalized “He” and “Him”, referred NOT ONLY to God, the Father Almighty, BUT ALSO to God’s Word), makes him affirm that that “another“, referred to the Word (Logos), manifested, so to speak, at Creation by God, the Father Almighty, would “express the distinction of persons” (see footnote 1660 appended by P. Schaff to the text). Also, it is significant that, when Hyppolitus says that God’s Word was “manifested as the Son”, he does NOT use the Greek word yios, that properly means “son”, but pais, which means “child” but also “slave”, and that clearly underlines the instrumental role of God’s “manifested Word” (logos prophorikos) in Creation.

    It is a sign of great confusion to consider the ante-Nicene Fathers “unitarian subordinationists”, and then to speak of “’subordinationism’ for which the ‘Arians’ were later pilloried”, leaving, for the umpteenth time, totally unexplained what, specifically, Arius and the Arians would have been “pilloried” for.

    As for the comment on Hyppolitus’ next quotation (again from his Against the Heresy of One Noetus , § 16), let’s simply ignore the (by now pathetically) anachronistic “unitarian”.

    Let’s concentrate instead on the (parenthetical) “and not also with the Son or Spirit (?)”. Like for Irenaeus, of whom Hyppolitus was the pupil (as Photios I of Constantinople describes him in his Bibliotheca – cod. 121), so for Hyppolitus, God’s Word and Spirit were NOT “pre-existing persons” (albeit subordinated), BUT His “arms” (or “hands”).


  3. T A says:


    your posts emphasize “arms”/”hands” again and again. But these are simply anthropomorphic terms. What do you really mean? Simply God in his action, in his outreach toward the world and mankind? Hebraic poetic personification? If so, I agree then. But do you mean something by “hands” and “arms” more than personification, something more personal? If not, what’s your problem with the term “unitarian”? You sound quite unitarian to me if hands/arms are understood in poetic personification..unless of course you’re fighting to remain “orthodox” and are afraid of losing your soul by denying you’re a “trinitarian”. So what are you? Unitarian or Trinitarian or Something Other? Show your cards for us all.


  4. Pingback: A Simple Guide to the Differences between Unitarianism and Trinitarianism | Defunct Creakings of a Cog

Leave a Reply

Please use your real name instead of you company name or keyword spam.