Glossary of Trinitarian Terms: Part 1

A number of my recent posts have put together just some of the terms that are important for  a belief in the Trinity. These are the ideas and concepts that many in the early church wrestled with, and many still do. It is my hope in posting this that will continue to build that foundation. Some terms you will notice are the same and have been covered. For those, you will see either a slightly different wording or an expanded definition. Over the next several post, the terms will focus on different beliefs that have risen as a result of Christians wrestling with the Trinity and the place of the Son and the Spirit; also terms dealing with the attributes and characteristics of God, qualities and attributes of Christ and the Spirit, and finally some key characteristics of the Trinity. 

It is my hope in presenting these terms that it will help strengthen your own beliefs and possibly fill in any gaps or curiosities that the reader might have.

Adoptionism: A belief which viewed Jesus as merely a virtuous human being chosen by God to be elevated to divine Sonship, through being anointed with his Spirit and resurrected as Lord of the church; deemed heretical.

Analogy: Comparison between a known reality (e.g. light; Son) and another both similar yet different; analogy is neither equivocal (open to ambiguous, multiple interpretations) nor univocal (directly correspondent). Theologically, analogy is human language (e.g., light; Son) employed to speak of that which reflects divine reality (e.g., God as pure light; the Son in filial role but not physical birth from the Father).

Anhypostasis, or Anhypostatic Union: Articulated by Cyril of Alexandria, the divine and human are so united in Jesus that there would be no (an-) human nature (hypostasis) without the divine; that is, there would never have been a human Jesus without the divine Logos assuming that human nature. See Enhypostasis.

Anthropomorphism: The metaphoric or analogous attribution to God of human characteristics, emotions, or activities (e.g., God’s finger; his repenting).

Apollinarianism: The belief asserted by Apollinarius which argued that Jesus Christ’s humanity was limited to body and emotions, not a human “higher soul”; thus, Jesus was divine only in his higher immaterial being, God on the inside, man on the outside; deemed heretical.

Apophatic Theology: Sometimes termed negative theology or the via negativa, apophatic theology defines God by what he is not; human language is said to be incapable of describing the infinity wonder of God, thus he is in-finite, im-mutable, etc.

Apostles’ Creed: A Western statement of Christian faith based on a 2nd century Roman Creed (traditionally ascribed to the Twelve Apostles) and today nearly universally appreciated as a foundational and unifying statement of Christian belief. Its three articles devoted to God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are echoed in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed.

Arianism: A belief based on the teachings of the 4th century theologian Arius which maintained that Jesus Christ was the highest of all created beings, similar but not equal in nature to God the Father; thus the Son is considered a god but not consubstantial with the Father; deemed heretical. See Consubstantial; Homoousios.

Athanasian Creed: Known also as the Quicunque Vult (Lat. “Whosoever will”), the Creed is a late 5th or 6th century Western catechism named in honor of Athanasius which states the basic tenet of Trinitarian doctrine: “the Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God.”

Baptism (Trinitarian): Water baptism that invokes, whether explicitly or implicitly (Ac 2:38; 19:3-5), the tripartite formula of the Savior in Mt 28:19, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” From the late first century, Trinitarian baptism (whatever the age or means) has served as the initial public rite of an individual’s acceptance into the church.

Binitarianism: The belief that the Godhead consists of only the Father and the Son, thus denying the deity of the Holy Spirit; in the early church, this view was purported among Monarchians, some Arians, and the Pneumatomachians.

Cappadocian Fathers: 4th Century Eastern theologians Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa, whose influence helped toward the full adoption of Nicene Trinitarian orthodoxy, the defeat of Arianism, and introduction to what some term the Social Model of the Trinity.


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