unborn, God come in the flesh, true life in death, from both Mary and
God, first subject to suffering and then beyond suffering, Jesus Christ
-Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians, 7.
This is a quote from Ignatius to the Christians in Ephesus, written in the early 2nd century (100's AD). (Ignatius knew Peter!) This quote serves to show how the language about the identity of Jesus was taking shape in the early years of Christian doctrine. I draw this up today because someone questioned me on the historicity of the idea of the "Trinity" – God as Father, Son and Spirit. The question was simple, but it was also pessimistic: "How could the Church 'create' the concept of the 'Trinity' hundreds of years after Jesus supposedly rose to life?"
Well, the truth is that the Church didn't create the idea. First of all, the idea is inherent in the Bible. Although we'd like to read the Bible as a manual or a textbook… it is a revelation. The Bible does not seek to defend God against other opinions nor does the Bible seek to explain God to us. The Bible is a revelatory word… an invitation to know and to follow the Lord who created us. The Bible understands and presents the idea that we will spend eternity getting to know God – and never still knowing him exhaustively.
Secondly, Jesus speaks of himself this way… as being One with the Father and with the Spirit. This would be a ridiculous claim… unless of course it is true.
Thirdly, the earliest follows of Jesus, including those closest to him who even knew him as a boy, proclaimed Jesus as being One with God the Father and also with the Holy Spirit. Reading the book of Jude makes this apparent, along with any of Paul's letters and any other book in the New Testament for that matter. (Read John 1:1 or the entire book of Revelations!) On top of the biblical testimony, too, is the testimony through the letters of the early Christian teachers, bishops and pastors within the first generations after the apostles. This is where the letter from Ignatius fits in.
The truth is that the Church didn't create the identity of God as Trinity. The Church did seek ways to communicate the revelation that God had come in flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ, and that God was active and alive in the presence of his Holy Spirit. God the Father = God. Jesus = God. The Spirit = God. God the Father, Son and Spirit = God. Three in One. Distinct and yet the Same. Somehow, mysteriously, God reveals himself to us as Father, Son and Spirit. Perhaps I'll need to spend some time posting more reflections on God as Trinity… a marvelous revelation.