AND EVOLUTION OF RELIGION
E. Washburn Hopkins, 1923
THE CHRISTIAN TRINITY
Christianity, though built upon the rock of Peter, utilized for the construction of its Church much pagan material, some of which had filtered through Jewish sources, while some was inherited from Mediterranean and Grecian cults. Baptism, fast, purification, vigil, the hope of immortality and resurrection, miraculous cures, water turned into wine, all these were pre-Christian. The religions of the divine Mother and of Mithra had already taught the doctrine of a redeeming god, whose experience was shared by the initiated believer. Mortal man through the death and resurrection of the god became by partaking in the sacraments a partaker also in the divine nature; he was mystically cleansed of sin by blood or water and became a sharer in divine immortality. The epiphany of Dionysos became the epiphany of Christ. The pagan gods were still remembered under a new form or regarded as demons. Sometimes they were transformed into angels and saints to whom man still prayed. The Christian sacraments, it was anxiously explained by the Church, owed their pagan resemblance to the fact that demons had parodied Christianity. -Unconsciously returning to the magical point of view, Ignatius declared that the communion bread was the "medicine of immortality." The idea of a secret brotherhood of the Chur ch was that of the Greek mysteries and, like these, gave a sense of union mystically consummated between the divine Power and a select band of human beings. (But it is improbable that Christianity borrowed directly its rites, sacraments, etc. It utilized what had long been known.)
As among the common people, so among the thinkers of the Church, pagan influence was inevitable. In Tarsus, where Paul lived, Stoic philosophy was well known. It conceived of a spiritual Power in the world, a Logos or Reason immanent in the universe. The early Church declared that Christ was the Logos and that the Logos was God. As such, though the earlier Gospels give no hint of this, Christ in John is represented as remembering his pre6xistence. Paul does not say that Christ is God, but he identifies Christ with the Holy Spirit and applies to him words of the Old Testament used of God: " I am God and . . . unto me every knee shall bow" (Is. 45: 22, 23; Phil. 2: 10). Christ is God's Spirit from heaven reigning in men, Lord and Master, opposed to flesh (Adam). Thus Paul's mysticism concerned Christ, whereas the mysticism of John concerned God; not spirit and flesh, but light and darkness, a Gnostic antithesis, neither Jewish nor early Greek. The germs of the Logos-doctrine are found in Paul's later epistles. Justin, Tatian, and other early writers identified the Spirit and Logos. The beginning of the doctrine of the trinity appears already in John (c. 100). To Jesus and Paul the doctrine of the trinity was apparently unknown; at any rate, they say nothing about it. The word trinity is not used before 180-200, in Greek and Latin form. As in India and with the Buddhists, there were separate objects of adoration afterwards united for practical or philosophical reasons.
It was the practical mind of the West which urged the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not at first on metaphysical grounds, but because, to make headway against polytheism, a stricter monotheism had to be presented than was implied in the separate adoration of two or three gods, and it had been openly charged against the Christians that they were duotheistic or tritheistic.
But the early Church Fathers differed among themselves in the interpretation of Christ and the Holy Spirit by every shade of meaning. The first Christian reformerl Marcion, regarded Christ as a docetic manifestation of the true God of mercy, opposed to the false Yahweh, and denied his real incarnation. Fifty year ' s later (180-200) Noetus taught that God himself was crucified; Christ, as Praxeas explained, was a temporary form of God. At the same period, Theodotus argued that the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus first at his baptism; Jesus's divinity was denied altogether by some of this teacher's followers; he was not really the son of God but an adopted son, a view which represents one of the oldest types of Christology. Paul of Samosata, bishop of Antioch (c. 200), declared that the Logos is an impersonal divine attribute described as God Is son.' This Logos filled Jesus, a man, with divine power so that he became morally and inspirationally one with God, but not substantially. Opposed to the general Antioch theory that the Son is a creature and God dwells apart from his creation, the Alexandrine school taught that the Son is not a creature and God is immanent in his creation. Christ to Origen was a secondary God, a Nous between God and world. In this "mottled Christianity" the Spirit is sometimes one with the Logos, as the Logos in Christ is identified with the Father, and sometimes a mere creature or manifestation of God, and even interpreted as a Mother Spirit, uniting with Father and Son in a triad; but again,
2 The expression "only beloved son" was first applied to Israel, chosen to reveal to the world the Unknown Father, a conception adopted by Christianity and applied to Christ in whom rests the Spirit of Wisdom (as in Israel). The Wisdom Spirit in Palestine became incorporate in the Torah, as Buddha was identified with the Dhamma; in Alexandria it was interpreted as Logos. A trinity was established at Antioch consisting of God, his Word, his Wisdom. On the transference from Israel to Christ of sonship and Wisdom, see Professor Bacon's article on "The Son as Organ of Revelation," Harvard Theological Rev., 1916, p. 382.
by the Semi-Arians, its divinity is denied. On the other hand, as Syrian Christians "worshipped two gods, Jesus and Mary, besides God," Mary was also regarded as the Holy Spirit. An angry dissension rent the early Church on the question whether Mary was Mother of God. But the Mother element came to the fore in two other conceptions, one in the hypostasis of the Church as Mother (in Hermas, Eusebius, and others), and another in the honor paid to deaconesses in the third century as Holy Spirit, analogous to the hypostasis of the Buddhist church members as Bodhisats. As hyperdulia was permitted to Mary, she tended to replace the Holy Spirit in the affection of the masses and Jesus in a non-canonical Gospel is said to have spoken of "my mother the Holy Spirit." 3 But quite apart from this, the mysticism of the Christian Church has also reached the same position as that of Rama-Krishna in India. Thus the English mystic Julian (c. 1400) says that God is the Mother.
In general it may be said that early Christian theology was a mixture of Stoic, Gnostic, and Platonic elements incongruously welded upon the old Jewish idea of a Spirit of God or Wisdom of God working in the Son of God, interpreted as Jesus Christ. But the first Christian theology was given in the words "I and my Father are one I ' and the plain faith of the early church members who were not doctrinaires was just this and nothing more. Jesus is God. So proclaimed the first hymns, sung by the early Church. Such hymns are attested by Pliny the Younger. Paul of Samosata had to put a ban upon hymns extolling Christ as God. So Ignatius, who has as yet no trinitarian formula, proclaimed, "one God Jesus
3 The Roman Catholic religion in India is now called the religion of the Mother, in distihetion from the Protestant religion of the Book. Valentimis's school of Gnostics (who recognized a mater viventium) had a Mother-myth; as she finds her savior and has a I'second marriage," so the soul finds a savior angel, in a mystic and erotic symbolism.
Christ" and spoke of deacons as "servants of God Christ." Christ as Son of God is identical with God both to Celsus, Pseudo-Barnabas, and the Clementines. It was a reproach hurled at the Jews by Justin that they "deny that he is God. I I In the third century, the Bishop of Rome says that some (Sabellians) believe Christ to be an emanation of God; some assume three hypostases; and some make Son and Holy Spirit to be mere creatures of God. Origen "will not affirm that the Saviour is God though some believe it" (to Origen he "had authority as Logos, Wisdom, Justice, Truth of God"). The same observer reports that "some pray to God and some pray to Jesus."
The final orthodox definition of the trinity was largely a matter of church politics. It was attained after endless disputes as to how much divinity and how much humanity was in Jesus Christ, when his divinity began, whether he was a creature, an emanation, or consubstantial with God, whether he was one with the Holy Spirit, whether the Holy Spirit was one with God, and finally whether a Gnostic term was to ' define the triune relationship or not, all theological hairsplitting in regard to questions which were definitively answered only by a party vote. All that a layman could understand was that God, Holy Spirit, and Son are "three persons and one God." The Church believed that "God" in the sense of an active creative power was the Holy Spirit of the Hebrews, the implication being that back of the Holy Spirit, as, in Greek theology, back of the Logos, lay a Power not so manifested, while it also believed with the first simple Christians that Jesus Christ was God on earth. The Holy Spirit was conceived as a divine Spirit of Mercy and of Wisdom 4 and of Truth, manifesting itself in Jesus and,
4 The Spirit of Wisdom, whether originally conceived under Hellenic influence or not, is in line with the Hebrew conception of various spirits of Yahweh, such as the spirit of might, of error, etc., which are visualized either as attributes or as spirits in the service of God. The spirit possesses a prophet just as it possessed a Pythia or a Sibyl; it deifies man.
according to some, as a Mother Spirit; but this androgynous interpretation of God, analogous to the Hindu and Buddhist interpretation, could fmd no lasting place in Western theology. Otherwise, the idea of a God, of a Spirit of Mercy as manifestation of God, and of an earthly incarnate form of the Logos as God, was not fundamentally different from the Oriental conception as it appears in the two great churches of Hinduism and Buddhism. In all three there was also the same question as to whether the human form of God was real or docetic.
But the Church through Augustine and the mystics of the Middle Ages was to be very strongly influenced by a form of Neoplatonism which has not yet been considered.
At the same time that Origen was laboring with the ill-defined nature of the trinity as historically presented and as philosophically conceivable-his system had no real place for the Holy Spirit-Plotinus (205-270), uninflueneed by Jewish tradition but not free from the influence of Gnosticism, according to some even versed in Indian mysticism (but this is improbable), evolved a form of Platonism which results in a trinity not dissimilar to that of orthodox Buddhism and Brahmanism. His theology, which was called "Platonic," had no little influence upon the leaders of Christian opinion.
Plato's pure idealism had postulated a divine Nous and Psyche, a world-soul, mediator between the divine and individual souls of which Psyche was the author, a created mediating being, made by God, between idea and phenomenon. Later Platonism employed, as synonymous, Theos, Nous, Logos, and in Philo the man from heaven or Logos, though still wavering between personal and impersonal, yet already, as savior, threatens the supremacy of God. Philo's system was purely speculative 5 but the mythological language survived. Behind the concrete personal Nous (treated by Plato as Creator and Father) was postulated by the Neoplatonists an abstract One, neuter, but still called Father and God by Plotinus, though the One is without qualities. The world of ideas (according to Plato, immanent in God as Nous) is located in the mind of a second divine being, namely, the principle of intelligence generated by (evolved from) the abstract One, so that the world, as in Numenius of the second century, is the grandson of God., his series being [Greek lettering which cannot be replicated]. Plotinus, in preserving this series, discarded the notion that every body of the material world is an animated intelligent being which derives its animated life from the World-soul, and reverting to Plato, made the spiritual the essentially real, as distinguished from phenomena, though with Philo he held that stars have life and mind. The mediatorial Nous is never incarnate but transcendental like the two other existences (hypostases), so that we have a trinity of the One, Mind, Soul. The human soul, being spiritual, is immortal. God before the world makes the World-soul out of the unchangeable indivisible and the (corporeal) changeable divisible. The mediating principle is an intermediate essence formed of the eternal spiritual and the material substratum of things, negatively space, as nurse of creation.6
Since evil in this system is not an active principle but
5 In Plutarch, polytheism was explained on Platonic principles, but with a dualistic tinge. Osiris, Isis, Horns (the last as phenomena resulting from the union of Logos and Psyche) were opposed to Typhon, a good trinity against an evil principle.
6 Technically, of sameness and otherness, "otherness" arising in Nous and having full play in soul in contact with matter, which is infinite. Matter is the least real as it is the last and lowest creation.
the defection, ellipsis, of good, God is not opposed to an abstract or personal Evil; but at the same time he is not Plato's intelligent Father; he is not personal and not qualified by moral qualities. What Plato conceived as God, Plotinus made an inferior divinity; his own God is more like Aristotle Is Nous. Yet the God of Plotinus is definable only as One (neuter) ; cause of all activity and superior to all, because all derive from the One. The implication that whatever is derived is inferior is not proved.7
The One is without ideas; all conscious ideas are in the Nous (Mind). But the One must be the Good because an unmoral One cannot produce a moral world (the same argument is used in Buddhism). The One is the Good above all good, as it is Beauty above all beauty, and toward it turns ever the Mind, Nous, receiving thence eternal energy and good. From the Nous is generated Psyche, Soul, inferior to it. Psyche turns to Nous as Nous turns to the One, but Psyche turns also to matter (the eternal capacity of life vitalized by Psyche). The nature of matter is to be receptive of forms; incapable of taking permanent hold of good, it is evil as "not-being." Psyche has one part on high, one conversant with corporeal things, and one subsisting between them; it generates the world.8 The One, Mind, Soul, are not personal beings; yet Plotinus's philosophy is a religion, withal a religion of vision and ecstasy. Vision is the base of faith and faith is higher than reasoned knowledge, said the religious interpreter (Proclus). Faith indeed is here rather the apprehension of metaphysical principles, but the general doctrine that faith surpasses science is common to all mystics. [Faith is real knowledge; this idea lurks also in all the Hindu asseverations regarding salvation as won by "knowledge."]
7 In regard to immortality, Plotinus argues that man participates in eternity because he can talk intelligently about it.
8 Whether Plotinus, holding such views, was a pantheist or not (as W. R. Inge maintains) is open to discussion. According to Zeller, Plotinus believed in free will; others hold that he was a determinist. See Whittaker's Flotinus, passim.
Now in Plotinus we find what some Church Fathers wanted but, in the face of tradition, did not dare to demand. God is the Absolute; not Reason, nor comprehensible through reason. He is absolute unity, the first cause, the World-power; but he does not create phenomena directly. Out from him as full perfection, as rays from the sun, pours the Nous, wherein ideas are immanent, the causes of all things as creatures. Thence emanates the World-soul expended in individual souls. These individual souls by birth in corporeal forms forget their divinity and desire to live independently, caring for things not spiritual. Their return to God is by way of knowledge and asceticism, by subjugation of the flesh, that the soul may be free to return to its spiritual home, and become like God. Through various stages of virtuous practices the soul reaches the serene life of spiritual contemplation and in this stage man becomes divine. But he still, though having to do with divine Nous alone, has not passed the gulf between divine Mind and God. Forgetful of self, devoid of all thought, in simple ecstasy, man already divine must rise to the desired union with the One.
This rapture of oneness with the One is identical with that which is to be seen in the ecstasy of the sages and saints of India. Sometimes it is concentrated upon Brahma as the One, sometimes upon the personal godhead as manifested in the Spirit of Mercy or in the God Incarnate, but always the emotion, for it is pure emotion, is the same. Above knowledge, above reason, in a paroxysm of spiritual sur-excitation the soul realizes God. This immediate consciousness of God is one with that union with God whereof all mystics relate their deep experience. And as with the names of the divine powers, so is it with the object of this mystic exaltation. It makes no difference whether union be felt with Brahma or God, with Vishnu Krishna or with Jesus Christ; pathologically the effect is the same; religiously it is the same. It is the realization of union, not the special object of faith, which matters, which effects the transport.
That faith is higher than (scientific) knowledge means in both religions, the Brahmanic-Buddhistic and the Christian-philosophic, not that we must believe in one form but that we can know God only by intuition, to which we must trust for the proof of his existence and goodness.
In all three forms of the trinity there is the same natural philosophic preference for the Absolute, the same inevitable religious preference for a personal God. With the exception of one important distinction, to wit, that in Greek philosophy the soul is a fallen creature struggling to regain primeval godliness, there is in all three systems a harmony of belief which is possible only because it is based on as near an approach to truth as human intellects can attain by ratiocination. All three systems struggle with the difficulty of defining God as something instead of somebody. God, Heavenly Spirit, Soul, is a trinity which the philosopher readjusting expresses as One (Absolute), Spirit (as God), Soul. God here must be an active creator, but with the definition of God as indefinable the Father God cannot be the indefinable Absolute. Hence, by imagining a creation or evolution or illusion, that which the believer means by God is interpreted by the philosopher as a secondary form of the Absolute One, the explicit as contrasted with the implicit, the energetic power rather than the potential power. As such, this God is one with the Heavenly Spirit and Logos, and when, as with Origen, one term is chosen, the other has no real validity, but is employed as a concession to tradition.
In the Brahmanic, Buddhistic, and Christian trinities we have therefore the double series of the devotee and of the philosopher, if for brevity such nomenclature may be permitted (though the devotee has his philosophy, as the philosopher has his religious devotion),. the double series, namely, (1) of Godhead, Creator Spirit, Soul, and (2) Absolute, Creator Spirit, Soul, in which latter series Spirit is really the active form of God as Father-Creator. But the trinity is primarily religious and while philosophical explanations are not uniform, either in the Occident or the Orient, the religious explanation is everywhere the same. In other words, the three trinities as religious expressions are identical. In each, a Supreme Being and Father God stands at the head of the trinity; the second member is the Holy Spirit, which, becoming man, takes flesh in the third member of the trinity. One may say: I believe in God as godhead, and in the divine incarnation, and in the creative Holy Spirit, as a Christian, a Vishnuite, or a Buddhist. The three threes are one. There are no racial limitations to the kingdom of religion; as Paul saw when he said "He whom ye ignorantly worship is God. "
To some it will be an insuperable objection that the Oriental God is immanent in nature, a pantheistic not a transcendental God. But, to the devotee, God, though a transcendent and ineffable being as godhead, yet having personal attributes, as of the Father, is chiefly a living and active spirit, so that practically he is not transcendent at all to the religious sense (this, for example, was the attitude of the early Christian Apologists). Thus it makes no religious difference whether God is regarded as essentially quite apart from or immanent in nature; as Father Creator both to pantheist and monotheist he is the same. Again, if we say that God created the world out of nothing, ex nihilo creavit, then the world is fundamentally nothing, which is virtually what the idealist maintains when he calls it an illusive creation of God. Yet the relation of spirit to matter is really not a fundamentally religious question; it does not affect in the least the attitude of the believer toward the God whom he believes to be his Creator and Father.10 The worshipper of Vishnu, the adorer of the Buddhist Spirit of Mercy, does not enquire how his God stands in respect of matter; he knows him as a divine Spirit to be loved and worshipped.
10 According to Zwingli, God is the infinite essence or Absolute Being; Nature is the power of God in action; and all being is one; for the being of his creatures is in and by him. This Christian view is really that of the Hindu modified idealism.
On the other hand, the historical factor is of course of religious moment. Too long has the inherited sense of God been attached to historical figures for the humble devotee to free himself from the feeling that for him there is a God under only one name, an incarnation of God known only as Jesus or as Gotama Buddha or as Rama-Krishna. One cannot expect the worshipper of the historical Jesus Christ to pray to any other redeemer. But it should be to him a great joy that in their own province others have realized under their own names the fact of divine incarnations, have recognized that the Spirit has, in Oriental thought, been incarnated for redemptive purpose, and that God is the same God in the Orient and in the Occident, as an arithmetical axiom remains the same truth whether uttered in English, Sanskrit, or Japanese. Religiously, the God of Brahmanism and of Buddhism is not only the Supreme Spirit, he is a God of grace and loving kindness. St. Augustine and the saints of the Upanishads chant together "God is expressed only by negations," but immediately both in India and Rome that God becomes God the Father, through whose grace one is saved. Even Plotinus , who denies Plato's Mind as the highest, immediately imputes. to the unqualified One goodness and beauty as the protoplasm of divine intelligence. Eckhart in the fourteenth century recognized God-nature and godhead. [Jones, Mystical Religions, II, p. 313. Matter and soul are substance of God.] The worshippers of Rama believe in God, put their faith in his loving grace, and hope to live with him in Paradise. The keynote of High Church Buddhism is God's self-sacrificing love for mankind; the keynote of Vishnuism. is loving faith and devotion to God, Vishnu or Rama.
That the two divine beings of Buddhism and Brahmanism are one is expressed not only by philosophers but by the fused religion of Camboja, where the local Trimurti was composed of Brahman, Vishnu, and Buddha. In Java, also, Buddha and Shiva and Vishnu were all one; in Nepal, Shiva was identified with Buddha and with Avalokiteshvara, the Spirit of Mercy. The identity of Godconcepts known by different -names was thus quite generally admitted. Whether one said Shiva or Buddha, meaning God, was not important. This catholicity is not general in the West but the author remembers that Professor Ladd, who was safely orthodox, returning from a tour in India once said: "I visited a Vedantist and after conversing with him I could not see but that we worshipped the same God." As godhead, Brahma, Buddha, and God are one. As merciful Spirit and Creator, our God is one with Vishnu and with the second form of the godhead recognized by Buddhist philosophy; as Spirit incarnate, Christ and Buddha and Krishna represent the same idea. In a world-church, which would stand to religion of the parochial type as does the spirit of worldbrotherhood to patriotism, this would be a new trinity, Godhead, Heavenly Spirit, incarnate Spirit; for all these higher religions accept God as the divine Origin of all things, as divine Love or Mercy, and as divine spirit in man. In Christ is the Spirit of God; and "Christ liveth in me."
This following, in the words of the commentator, is the exposition of the modified idealistic pantheism of India: There is one Lord, whom the philosophers call highest Brahma (the Absolute); he is antagonistic to all evil; his nature is uniformly excellent; he is of unlimited exalted qualities, such as infinite intelligence and bliss; all his purposes come true.; he is animated by infinite pity, tenderness, magnanimity; he is the Lord, yet also the Absolute, and he is the basis of all entities set forth in other religions (under other names); he. is the Absolute yet also the Lord God, who manifests himself in the human soul and in human incarnations of divine form; it is he who is manifested as God, as soul, as mind, as selfconsciousness; he is the operative and substantial cause of the world; from him originates the individual soul, which is never outside God but has forever a separate existence and will at death pass to a life of bliss in the presence of God.
Not very different from our own idea of God and the soul, this modified Hindu idealism in which the Lord God is the Creator, but also, when not creating and manifesting himself, is the godhead, and, when manifesting himself, appears incarnate on earth as Teacher and Revealer.
We have seen that Niebiren in Japan defines as a trinity the God known to Buddhism. This same trinity is defined in China also, as follows: "The Three are all included in one substantial essence. The three are the, same as one; not one, and yet not different; without parts or composition. When regarded as one, the three, persons are spoken of as the Perfect One (Tathagata). There is no real diference [between the three persons of the trinity] ; they are manifestations, different aspects of the same unchanging substance."12
But after all, the triune God is a mystery rather than a personal object of adoration. Yet to the Buddhist~ as to the Hindu, God is also the Father. The same work from which the definition of the trinity has just been cited contains also the "daily prayers" of the Buddhist. This little prayer is to be said "on bowing down before Buddha." Truth compels one to admit that it is probably an image of Buddha. But let us not cry out "Ah, the wretched idolater!" Let us rather see what is behind, or, more truly, above the image and in the heart of him who prays thus:
"King of the Law and most exalted Lord,
Unequalled through the threefold world,
Teacher and guide of men and spirits,
Our loving Father and of all that breathes,
I bow to thee in reverence, and pray
Thou wilt destroy all sins of old committed.
Ever I praise thee, though to praise thee fully
Eternity itself would not suffice."
12 Cited in Beal's Catena, p. 124, from Jin Ch'au in the Fah-kai-onlih-to; dharmakaya, sambhogakaya, nirmanakaya, as three Tathagatas.
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