Where Did It Come From?
The doctrine of the Trinity has long been taught in both Catholic and Protestant churches as the central doctrine of Christendom’s religions.
Is it from the Bible? The “Encyclopædia Britannica” explains that “neither the word ‘Trinity’ nor the explicit doctrine as such appears at any one place in the Bible.” (1971 ed., Vol. 22, p. 241) Concerning the dogma of “one God in three Persons,” the “Catholic Encyclopedia” acknowledges: “It is not . . . directly and immediately the word of God.” (1967 ed., Vol. 14, p. 304)
Then where did the idea originate? Trinities of gods were common in ancient Egyptian and Babylonian mythology, and in the Hindu and Buddhist religions. At the right you see an ancient Egyptian triad of gods: Isis, Osiris and Horus.
According to “The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge,” pagan Greek philosophers influenced Christendom’s teaching: “The doctrines of the Logos and the Trinity received their shape from Greek Fathers, who, if not trained in the schools, were much influenced, directly or indirectly, by the [pagan] Platonic philosophy.” (Vol. 9, p. 91)
The Roman emperor Constantine also played an important role. Viewing religious division as a threat to the unity of the empire, he summoned a council of bishops at Nicea in 325 C.E. After two months of debate, the unbaptized emperor decided in favor of the Trinitarian advocates. Reports the “Encyclopædia Britannica” (Vol. 6, p. 386): “Overawed by the emperor, the bishops, with two exceptions only, signed the [Nicean] creed, many of them much against their inclination.” Dissenters were banished.
Not long after this, however, the dissenters at Nicea were back in Constantine’s favor and a chief advocate of Trinitarianism was banned. Later, the Trinitarians were favored again, by Emperor Theodosius, who closed the places of worship of those who would not conform.
Thus, pagan philosophy and decrees of political rulers helped to shape the doctrine of the Trinity and give it the popularity it has today.