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Forced Trinitarian Orthodoxy Prevails

J. Dan Gill

Multi-person orthodoxy ultimately triumphed not because it was a good idea or because it was biblical — it was neither. Rather, it prevailed because of persecution. With the coming of Emperor Constantine the Great and his embracing of Christianity, Christians were allowed to exist freely in the Roman world. However, that freedom applied only to people who adhered to the version of Christianity approved by Constantine and his successors. This important fact can be seen following the Council of Nicaea. Bishops who refused to vote in agreement with the conclusions reached at the council did so under threat of banishment by the emperor. In fact, the leader of the minority party was deposed and exiled to Illyricum. Later, Constantine would have a change of mind; banish the leader of the first party and bring back the leader of the minority party. Still later, he would again bring back the leader of the original party. The price of peace for Christians was the loss of control over what they would believe and practice. Ultimately, authority in matters of faith now rested with the emperors.[1] When people today sometimes laud Constantine and his successors for ending the persecution of Christians, they forget that it was at the expense of other Christians who disagreed with the new mandated theology. Constantine’s successors continued inflicting suffering on men and women who dared to differ. Some 55 years after Nicaea, emperors Gratian, Valentinian II and Theodosius I decreed to the citizens of Constantinople that all who embraced the doctrine of the Trinity would enjoy their favor. Then the edict continues:

The rest, however, whom we adjudge demented and insane, shall sustain the infamy of heretical dogmas, their meeting places shall not be called churches, and they shall be smitten primarily by Divine Vengeance and secondly by the punishment of Our Power, which we have received by Divine favor.[2]

To resist multi-person orthodoxy now meant being declared demented, insane and subject to punishment by the government of the land. A short time later, the emperors go on to command the proconsul of Asia that “all churches shall presently be surrendered to those Bishops who … affirm the concept of the Trinity.”[3]

No one in the Bible was ever persecuted for denying or affirming a multi-person God. No one in the Bible had ever proposed such an idea. It was more than three centuries after Christ that Constantine’s successors were turning reality on its head by making a concerted effort to suppress people who held to the true, biblical understanding of God as one individual. Christians of all stripes had been persecuted in times prior to Constantine’s conversion in 312 CE. Now persecutions were reserved for those Christians who would not walk in lockstep with the dictates of the emperors, including adherence to the new multi-person orthodoxy.

Orthodox Christians observed Constantine’s brutality and yet went on to honor him as a saint.[4] While they themselves had earlier endured great persecutions, strangely they now became friends of the persecutors. In fact, Trinitarian Christians came to persecute minority Christians in the centuries subsequent to Constantine. Hence, the persecuted became the persecutors. In that regard, those Gentile Christians were really more the children of the emperors than of Jesus who was non-violent (John 18:36) and insisted that his disciples are to “love their enemies” and to pray even for “those who persecute them” (Matt. 5:44). Thus, with the advent of state approved and state-enforced Christianity came centuries of Christian on Christian hate.

Christians were now deprived of the freedom to choose what they would believe in regard to the very God they worshipped. Free inquiry was dead, as was freedom of speech. Even to question these particular matters became a taboo which is part of Gentile Christian DNA to this day. Sadly, many Christians even now verbally abuse and “dutifully” oppose anyone who trusts in Christ but does not embrace the doctrine of the Trinity. They do so without realizing that their proclivity to harm dissenters can be traced not to Jesus, but to the dark days of Constantine and his successors.

Multi-person orthodoxy was born in confusion, nurtured at the bosoms of post-biblical bishops, guarded with violence by emperors and sustained by an ongoing intimidation against dissenters that continues even to this day.[5]

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Gill, J. Dan (2016). Forced Trinitarian Orthodoxy Prevails. In, The One: In Defense of God (pp. 255-257). Nashville, TN: 21st Century Reformation Publishing.


[1] Arius, leader of the minority party, and Athanasius of the majority party each paid the price of banishment for being unrelenting in their views. Athanasius was exiled a total of five times by four different emperors. Both men died without ever retracting their positions. Their banishments testify to the extent of the emperors’ invasiveness and exercise of power in matters regarding Christian doctrine and faith.

[2] Clyde Pharr, ed., The Corpus of Roman Law (Corpus Juris Romani), Theodosian Code (Nashville: Department of Classics, Vanderbilt University, 1946), 16:1, 2.

[3] Ibid. 2, 3. The proconsul was Ausonius. We may be reminded of how far the reach of legislated orthodoxy has extended by considering the infamous ‘‘Blasphemy Act’’ which became law in England in 1697. The act made it a crime for ‘‘any person educated in or having made profession of the Christian religion … to deny the Holy Trinity.’’ The Trinitarian aspect of the act was repealed (to the benefit of unitarians) by the ‘‘Doctrine of the Trinity Act’’ which was passed in 1813.

[4] Constantine came to be widely revered as a saint in the Eastern Church. This was in spite of the fact that after his conversion to Christianity he persecuted Jews and minority Christians, and put to death his wife, a son, nephew, nephew’s wife, and other family members.

[5] It is to our shame as Christians that it took the coming of the Enlightenment, the influence of non-mainstream Christians (such as the Anabaptists, and unitarians) and the development of the western democracies to bring an end to church/state sponsored violence against minority (non-orthodox) Christians in the West.

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