In my previous post I summarized the view that God the Father and God the Son and God the Spirit were actually one and the same – that they were three ways of God relating to the creation and the people who inhabit it – just as I am only one person but am both a father and a son and a brother, depending on whom I am relating to. That view has been given various names among historians of theology; here I am calling it “modalist” – God is one person who has three different modes of existence and ways of relating.
Here I continue by discussing how the view came to be attacked by others. Again, this is based on the fuller discussion in my book How Jesus Became God.
The attackers were fighting an uphill battle. As we have seen that the view was widely accepted at the end of the second and beginning of the third, even though it came to be rejected as a heresy. Two of the main opponents – at least whose writings survive – were the Roman church leader Hippolytus and the feisty Carthaginian intellectual Tertullian. These two, Hippolytus and Tertullian. were no pushovers. Quite the contrary, they were forceful polemicists and aimed their attacks not only at such “obvious” heretics as Marcion and the Gnostics, but also at those who seemed to be orthodox in affirming both the humanity and divinity of Christ, but who nonetheless pressed the logic of their positions to a point that created its own kind of heresy. As a result of this controversy, Hippolytus, one of the leaders of the church of Rome, withdrew with a group of like-minded Christians from the larger church and was elected as a kind of sectarian bishop. He is known to history as the first anti-pope. In that role he saw himself as the advocate of orthodoxy and maintained that the more broadly recognized bishops of Rome were heretics.
For his part, Tertullian was the most famous…
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