trinitarian or unitarian? 10 – Hippolytus on the identity of the one God

hippolytusIncredibly, in 1551 they discovered an intact statue of Hippolytus (pictured here). This may exist because he was revered as a martyr shortly after his lifetime.

In the previous post, we saw that in his theology, the divine (but less divine than God) Logos came to exist from God a finite time ago, so that God could create the cosmos by means of him. On two counts, then, this makes him not a trinitarian – that the “persons” are neither co-equal nor equally divine. But is he a unitarian?

In the most important work we have from him, he says,

The first and only (one God), both Creator and Lord of all, had nothing coeval with Himself… Therefore this solitary and supreme Deity, by an exercise of reflection, brought forth the Logos first… Him alone He produced from existing things; for the Father Himself constituted existence, and the being born from Him was the cause of all things that are produced. The Logos was in the Father Himself, bearing the will of His progenitor, and not being unacquainted with the mind of the Father. For simultaneously with His procession from His Progenitor… He has, as a voice in Himself, the ideas conceived in the Father. …when the Father ordered the world to come into existence, the Logos one by one completed *each object of creation, thus pleasing God.   …[God, via the Logos] formed the ruler of all [creation, i.e. Adam]… The Creator did not wish to make him a god, and failed in His aim; nor an angel… but a man. For if He had willed to make thee a god, He could have done so. Thou has the example of the Logos. His [God’s] will, however, was, that you should be a man, and He has made thee a man. But if thou art desirous of also becoming a god, obey Him that has created thee… The Logos alone of this God is from God himself; wherefore also the Logos is God, being the substance of God.  (Hippolytus, The Refutation of All Heresies, ch. XXVIII-XXIX, p. 151.)

Who is the one God here? It’s the Father.

One can be distracted by the fact that he calls the pre-human Jesus (the Logos) “God”. But we see also that he was given that status by God. And God, he says, could have made more such derivative deities – but chose not do. “Having the substance of God” – in his, pre-Nicene usage this is a status one can have by the free choice of God, and not eternally.

Here’s how he ends the book:

[Becoming a Christian,] You shall escape the boiling flood of hell’s eternal lake of fire… being instructed in a knowledge of the true God. And thou shalt possess an immortal body… And thou shalt receive the kingdom of heaven… And thou shalt be a companion of the Deity, and a co-heir with Christ, no longer enslaved by lusts or passions, and never again wasted by disease. For thou has become God: for whatever sufferings thou didst undergo while being a man, these He gave to thee, because thou wast of mortal mould, but whatever it is consistent with God to impart, these God has promised to bestow upon thee, because thou has been deified, and begotten unto immortality. …Be not therefore inflamed, O ye men, with enmity one towards another, nor hesitate to retrace with all speed your steps. For Christ is the God above all, and He has been arranged to wash away sin from human beings, regenerate the old man. And God called man His likeness from the beginning… And provided thou obeyest His solemn injunctions… thou shalt resemble Him, inasmuch as thou shalt have honour conferred upon thee by Him. For the Deity, (by condescension,) does not diminish aught of the dignity of His divine perfection; having made thee even God unto His glory!     (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, XXX, p. 153)

This is a dense passage, and translators have disputed over the text and translation of that second to last bolded phrase. But this much is clear. The true God is the Father of Jesus. But the Christian will “become God” (or: “become a god”). He thinks of salvation as deification. God, he thinks, can deify others. But he can’t pass on all divine attributes – such as being the ultimate source of all else, and existing independently of all else. It would be a contradiction to suppose properties like those to be passed along, as it were. Really, in his view – though he’s not explicit about it – there is a gradation of deities – with the one true God at the top, then the Son, then saved/deified Christians. As creatures, the derive from the Son (and ultimately from the Father). And as Son, Christ derives only from God. God derives from no one. Is Christ, in his view “the God above all”? Yes – above all humans, or above all creatures. But not above the Father, the one God in the highest sense.

This sort of God-talk is quite different than that of the Bible, though not without precedent in it.

The question again, is:

  • is Hippolytus a trinitarian (the one God contains or consists of three equally divine persons)
  • or unitarian (the one God is numerically identical to the Father, and not to the Son)?

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.

67 Responses to trinitarian or unitarian? 10 – Hippolytus on the identity of the one God

  1. Helez says:

    MdS,

    You consider yourself a monotheist? How many are God?

  2. villanovanus says:

    Helez

    [#49, April 7, 2013 at 2:34 pm] Was Adam a son of God. Isn’t he created?

    In the genealogy of Jesus according to Luke we read:

    … the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.

    Do we have to read that “Adam, the son of God” literally? I leave that idiocy to others. For my part, I follow this understanding of the filial relationship of all humans (except for Jesus, who is a unique case, monogenês) to God, the Father Almighty:

    And call no one your ‘father’ on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. (Matthew 23:9)

    [#50, April 7, 2013 at 2:47 pm] The Son is [a?] person. [m] A person has a body. They [presumably: persons] cannot exist without one. [n] In his prehuman existence the Son was a spirit person with a spiritual body. [o] His life was miraculously transferred from heaven to the womb of the virgin Mary. Subsequently, the person of the Son was born as a human being with a physical body. That is all I know. This is what I understand Scripture is showing us. I’m sure you’re able to make fun of it, but to me it sounds much more reasonable than ending up with someone who is both Almighty God and a human being at the same time.

    Let’s see:

    [m] Are you suggesting that YHWH God, the Father Almighty is not a person? Or that He has a “body” (like LDS affirm)? Or what?

    [n] What is your scriptural source for this claim?

    [o] So what happened to the “spiritual body” that the “prehuman Son” would have had? Was it … er … left behind when “[h]is life was miraculously transferred from heaven to the womb of the virgin Mary”? Or what?

    [#1, April 7, 2013 at 2:59 pm] [p] You consider yourself a monotheist? [q] How many are God?

    [p]As I reject the doctrine of the “trinity” (whether the “later” dogma of the “co-equal, co-eternal and tri-personal trinity” or the earlier subordinationist versions); more, as I affirm that ONLY YHWH God, the Father Almighty, exists/subsists from Himself (aseity) I consider myself an advocate of Strict Monotheism.

    [q] In the beginning, ONLY One: YHWH God, the Father Almighty, who, though, has two eternal “arms” (or “hands”): His Word/Logos/Dabar and His Spirit/Pneuma/Ruwach (see Deut 33:27; Psalm 33:6).

    Inasmuch as he is the Incarnation of God’s Eternal Word/Logos/Dabar, Jesus is both God and man. With his Resurrection and Ascension he has been proclaimed Lord by the Father, fully sharing his Kingdom, Power and Glory (see Phil 2:9-11)

    All humans who will be resurrected to Life Everlasting will be fully inhabited by God’s Spirit and deified, “so that God may be all in all” (1 Cor 15:28).

    MdS

  3. Helez says:

    MdS,

    If you believe God is a species, and the Son of God is God because his Father is God, you proclaim two Gods. You start of with one God (“In the beginning, ONLY One”), but now you have more than one. It seems to me that your flavor of “strict monotheism” actually isn’t monotheism at all.

    YHWH is the only true God. YHWH’s Son, or anyone else, isn’t also the only true God. YHWH isn’t created. Everything else is. That is strict Christian monotheism.

    Helez

  4. villanovanus says:

    Helez >[#3, April 8, 2013 at 4:02 am]

    It is entirely obvious that you keep confusing the difference between creature (you and I are creatures) and being (properly, literally) a son, like ONLY Jesus is. I cannot help you any more than I have already done. So I am quite happy to leave the question.

    It is equally evident that, while God condemned the worship of “other gods” (actually, mere idols, or, worse, demons), His condemnation certainly doesn’t apply to what He has willed, namely a Son (a proper, literal Son) who would be, therefore fully God AND fully man, and Mediator between God, the Father Almighty, and humans. I cannot help you any more than I have already done. So I am quite happy to leave the question.

    OTOH, I take good notice that you have carefully ignored ALL my requests of clarification (see m, n, o). Clearly you don’t know what to say. No surprise …

    MdS

  5. Helez says:

    MdS,

    Thank you for clarifying that your advocated “Strict Monotheism” indeed isn’t really monotheism at all.

    I can reply to your questions, but I don’t feel like doing so anymore because of your unpleasant fashion of approach. I don’t mind if you think it is because I don’t know what to say.

    Helez.

  6. villanovanus says:

    Helez [#5, April 8, 2013 at 9:40 am]

    [r] I can reply to your questions, [s] but I don’t feel like doing so anymore because of your unpleasant fashion of approach. [t] I don’t mind if you think it is because I don’t know what to say.

    [r] Big bluff …

    [s] Well, how convenient …

    [t] That’s is exactly what I think …

    MdS

  7. John says:

    Villanovanus,
    I must say I am perplexed.
    You say that Christ is fully God – fully man.
    Yet Christ has a God who is also his Father.
    So we have two Gods?
    Blessings
    John

  8. villanovanus says:

    John [#7, April 8, April 8, 2013 at 11:44 am]

    You say that Christ is fully God – fully man.
    Yet Christ has a God who is also his Father.
    So we have two Gods?

    First, YHWH God, in His omnipotence, can do anything (except something impossible, like someone else being self-existing as Himself), so he can decide to have a Son who shares (genetically, so to speak) His very same divinity. More he can decide to raise him from the dead, take him up to Heaven and have him seated at his right, equally sharing His Kingdom, Power and Glory. Who (man, angel or demon) can oppose that?

    Second, as I have already said, while God condemned the worship of “other gods” (actually, mere idols, or, worse, demons), His condemnation certainly doesn’t apply to what He has willed, namely a Son (a proper, literal Son) who would be, therefore, fully God AND fully man, and Mediator between God, the Father Almighty, and humans.

    Is what is described above bi-theism? I don’t think so, and anyway I don’t care. Who can tell God what he can do or not do?

    Blessings,

    MdS

  9. John says:

    Villanovanus
    And how would youintegrate 1 Corinthians 15 : 28 into your analysis?
    Every Blessing
    John

  10. Angela says:

    Vilanovanus,
    I am full of admiration for your knowledge of theological matters.
    I am completely unimpressed by the way you have treated Helez!
    You come over as an overbearing narcissistic buffoon without humility or grace.
    Time to examine yourself and ask “what would Christ think of what
    I have just said”.
    You have so much to contribute but…
    Tant pis!
    Best
    Angela

  11. villanovanus says:

    John [#9, April 8, April 8, 2013 at 2:26 pm]

    And how would you integrate 1 Corinthians 15:28 into your analysis?

    In the Opening Post, Dale quoted from Hippolytus. This is what we read in the second quotation:

    For thou hast become God: for whatever sufferings thou didst undergo while being a man, these He gave to thee, because thou wast of mortal mould, but whatever it is consistent with God to impart, these God has promised to bestow upon thee, because thou hast been deified, and begotten unto immortality. (The Refutation of All Heresies, Book X, Chapter XXX)

    At the end of his OP, Dale made the following remark …

    This sort of God-talk is quite different than that of the Bible, though not without precedent in it.

    … in reply to which I wrote:

    … while I agree that Hippolytus’ “God-talk is quite different than that of the Bible”, there are two strong and clear “precedents” in it: [Phil 2:9-11; cp. Acts 2:36 and 1 Cor 15:28]

    IOW, although that of Hippolytus may seem theological tall talk, it is fully supported by what the Paul says: with the Resurrection to Life Everlasting, God’s Elect will have “become God”. NOT in an allusive, metaphorical sense, BUT literally.

    Or, putting it in a more theological way, the Trinity is NEITHER eternal NOR protological, BUT eschatological: what was NOT true “in the beginning”, what is only partly true now, (when the Resurrected and Ascended Jesus Christ is “seated at the right of the Power” and Lord himself) will be fully true “… when all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all” (1 Cor 15:28).

    MdS

  12. villanovanus says:

    Angela [#10, April 8, 2013 at 3:46 pm]

    This is an area for debate, and debate can become harsh. Anyway, I believe that, in my discussion with Helez, I showed more restraint that you did in your first post here, jumping to the (insufficiently supported) conclusion of some alleged “Helez’s J.W. theology” …

    MdS

  13. Angela says:

    Vilanovanus
    Sorry!
    I must say I was naughty – on something of a ‘fishing trip’
    Best
    Angela

  14. villanovanus says:

    Angela,

    however harsh, otoh, I was not in the mood for inquisition …

    Anyway, you are forgiven, and you are still entitled to 469 more … ;)

    MdS

    P.S. My nickname, Villanovanus (with two “l”) comes from the pseudonym that Michael Servetus adopted to keep his identity secret, and is tied to his birthplace, Villanueva de Sijena in Aragon, Spain.

  15. Angela says:

    Villanovanus
    Sorry about the spelling.!
    Keep on with the good work, but be gracious to us lesser mortals!
    Best
    Angela

  16. villanovanus says:

    Corrections

    469 => 489 (70×7 -1)

    The text of the P.S. was not meant to be bolded

  17. Hi Dale and everybody else,

    I agree that Hippolytus and all other early church Logos theologians were not Trinitarian as later defined by ecumenical councils. The Logos theologians could be called “unitarian” or “trinitarian” in general. Regardless of calling them unitarian or trinitarian, they were inadvertently tritheists with a drastically different polytheism compared to other polytheistic ancient Mediterranean religions.

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