Sunday, June 28, 2015

Gay Marriage Decision: How do we Respond?

This decision was hardly a shocker, in the sense that the smart money was always on it coming out this way, given that we have 4 liberal justices that never deviate from their agenda, and Anthony Kennedy has come down on the side of homosexual activism every time he has had a chance to. But now the question is where do we go from here? Politically, there are several ways that we can continue the fight, but the bigger issue for us as Orthodox Christians is how do we respond in terms of how we as Christians will deal with this new challenge individually, as families, and as a Church.

Here are some things that I think we will all need to do if we want to remain faithful to the teachings of the Church:

1. Educate yourself on the issue and be prepared to speak up on it:

You will be increasingly challenged on this, and though the polls show a majority of Americans now support gay marriage, a large percentage of those people are simply shifting with the perceived winds of the culture, fanned by the media. That means those people might be persuaded, if they actually heard the case against gay marriage made. Unfortunately, too many Christians have been afraid to make that case, for fear of being labelled a "hater." Christ never promised us that being a Christian would be popular, in fact, he promised quite the opposite... so you need to get over the fear of what unbelievers think, and stand for Christ, regardless of the consequences.

One of the best ways to educate yourself on this would be to read "The Bible and Homosexual Practice," by Dr. Robert Gagnon. Which is a book praised by two of the most highly respected Protestant Biblical Scholars of the last 50 years (Bruce Metzger and Brevard Childs).

You can get a taste of what he has to say here:

The Family Research Council has a Sunday Bulletin insert with useful information here:

They also offer an informative document that provides useful material for sermons on the subject here:

There are also a number of articles and videos linked here:

There is a very informative video put out by the Roman Catholic media outlet Church Militant:

We also need to be welcoming to those who struggle with homosexuality, but who wish to repent. Homosexuality is not an unpardonable sin. Our issue is with those who say homosexual sex is not sinful, not with homosexuals who recognize that this is sinful, and are seeking the grace and forgiveness of Christ.

2. You need to understand the times we are living in:

Anyone above the age of 30 has to be amazed at the rapidity with which the gay agenda has been advanced, and with the speed that transgender activism has become the new cause of the left. The Left's goal is the destruction of conservative Christianity, in any form. If you don't believe that, you need to read the recent article on the Huffington Post: "Does Legal Gay Marriage Doom Evangelical Christianity?" by Clay Farris Naff, which states towards the end:

"More than two-thirds of young Americans already accept gay marriage. As it proliferates, more will. To come out as anti-gay is already seriously not cool. Increasingly, in high schools and colleges, to be anti-gay will be like coming out as a Klansman."

Given the success rate of the left in advancing the gay agenda up until now, it would be foolish to say "That will never happen." If  things continue on their present course, and if Christians continue to cower when challenged on this issue, you can bet your last money that this is exactly what will happen. Of course Klansmen still have the right to exist in the United States, but there are few jobs that they would not be fired from were they known to be such. That is the "tolerance" that they have in mind for us.

And not only will this decision lead to the end of Christian adoption agencies that refuse to allow homosexuals to adopt children, the day may well come in the not too distant future where Christians who do not toe the line on this issue will not be allowed to adopt children, and may even run the risk of having their own children removed from their homes, because leaving a child in such a "hateful environment" is deemed child abuse.

3. You need to seriously consider your options, if things continue on their present course;

There is a Chinese proverb that says "A wise rabbit has three holes." You need to start preparing your second and third hole.

Your job may be in jeopardy, and so you may need to consider what you will do if you lose it. For example, in states that already have had gay marriage, children are being taught that homosexuality is normal. If you are a school teacher, what will you do if it comes to that in your school?

If your children are in the public schools, you need to start thinking about home schooling or private Christian schools.

You also need to let your elected representatives know that they need to deal with this issue, and this needs to be more than a one time phone call or e-mail.

See also:

Democracy Is Dying; Persecution Is Coming, by Rod Dreher

Canada legalized gay marriage ten years ago -- Here's what to expect next, America

Friday, June 26, 2015

Stump the Priest: The Salvation Army

Question: "Should an Orthodox Christian make donations to the Salvation Army?"

You could certainly do a lot worse with your money than to give to the Salvation Army.

Many are unaware that the Salvation Army is actually a Protestant denomination, rather than just a charitable entity. It was founded in 1865 by William and Catherine Booth. It is part of the Wesleyan / Methodist tradition, and is theologically almost identical in belief to other Holiness denominations, such as the Nazarene Church that I grew up in. It is different from just about every other Christian group when it comes to the Sacraments. Salvationists reject all Sacraments, including baptism and the Eucharist. As their name suggests, they are structured a military model -- with clergy have the ranks of officers, and laity being the enlisted. When you join the Salvation Army, you sign the Articles of War, rather than receive baptism. Their churches are called "citadels" Another interesting feature of the Salvation Army is that married officers are required to have the same "rank" as their spouses. This is in large part due to the high level of commitment that they require of their officers, but also due to their belief that this work requires a team effort on the part of such a couple. The charitable work of the Salvation Army is impressive and admirable. I think that it would be a good idea for the Orthodox Church to encourage people to emulate much of what they do.

But to answer the question, some would argue that because they are a Protestant denomination, we should not give to them because in some traditionally Orthodox regions they have attempted to convert people to their faith. A case could also be made that since Orthodox Christians in America are a small minority, and our own charitable organizations attract a lot less general support, we should support our own charitable works and let the Protestants support the Salvation Army. On the other hand, there are things that the Salvation Army does that no Orthodox charity that I am aware of is currently doing -- for example, I know that in Houston they run a family shelter that tries to help homeless families without splitting them up. So personally, I think if you are donating to some specific purpose like that, there is nothing wrong with that.

My own mother was born in a Salvation Army hospital, and so I am glad that despite their theological shortcomings, they have in practice been such good examples to the rest of us.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Stump the Priest: Can the Dead Repent?

Question: "If someone dies without repentance, is it possible for such a person to repent after death?"

Scripture, as explained by the Fathers of the Church, states that this is not possible.

Psalm 6:5 says: "For in death there is none that is mindful of Thee, and in hades who will confess Thee?"

Commenting on this passage, St. John Chrysostom says: "[The Prophet David is] not implying that our existence lasts only as far as this present life: perish the thought! After all, he is aware of the doctrine of the resurrection. Rather, it is that after our departure from here there would be no time for repentance. For the rich man praised God and repented, but in view of its lateness it did him no good [Luke 16:19-31]. The virgins wanted to get some oil, but no one gave any to them [Matthew 25:1-13]. So this is what this mane requests, too, for his sins to be washed away in this life so as to enjoy confidence at the tribunal of the fearsome judge" (St. John Chrysostom: Commentary on the Psalms, vol. I, trans. Robert C. Hill (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1998), p. 102).

St. Jerome says: "While you are still in this world, I beg of you to repent. Confess and give thanks to the Lord, for in this world only is he merciful. Here, he is able to be compassionate to the repentant, but because there he is judge, he is not merciful. Here, he is compassionate kindness; there, he is judge. Here, he reaches out his hand to the falling; there, he presides as judge" (Homily on Psalm 105[106], quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament, Vol. VII, Craig A. Blaising and Carmen S. Hardin, eds. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2008) p. 51).

St. Gregory the Theologian says: "... it is better to be punished and cleansed now than to be transmitted to the torment to come, when it is the time of chastisement, not of cleansing.  For as he who remembers God here is conqueror of death (as David has most excellently sung) so the departed have not in the grave confession and restoration; for God has confined life and action to this world, and to the future the scrutiny of what has been done" (On His Father's Silence, Oration 16:7).

St. Basil the Great says: "In like manner they which have grieved the Holy Spirit by the wickedness of their ways, or have not wrought for Him that gave to them, shall be deprived of what they have received, their grace being transferred to others; or, according to one of the evangelists, they shall even be wholly cut asunder, —the cutting asunder meaning complete separation from the Spirit.  The body is not divided, part being delivered to chastisement, and part let off; for when a whole has sinned it were like the old fables, and unworthy of a righteous judge, for only the half to suffer chastisement.  Nor is the soul cut in two,—that soul the whole of which possesses the sinful affection throughout, and works the wickedness in co-operation with the body. The cutting asunder, as I have observed, is the eternal separation of the soul from the Spirit.  For now, although the Spirit does not suffer admixture with the unworthy, He nevertheless does seem in a manner to be present with them that have once been sealed, awaiting the salvation which follows on their conversion; but then He will be wholly cut off from the soul that has defiled His grace.  For this reason “In Hades there is none that maketh confession; in death none that remembereth God,” because the help of the Spirit is no longer present" (Treatise on the Holy Spirit, 40).

Blessed Theodoret says: "For this reason I beg the privilege of enjoying the cure in the present life, since I know that no cure will then be granted those departing this life with wounds, as there is no longer any room for repentance. This was exceptionally sound thinking on the part of the divine David: it is not in death but in life that one recalls God. Likewise, confession and reform do not come to the departed in Hades: God confined life and action to this life; there, however, he conducts an evaluation of performance. And in any case this is proper to to the eighth day, giving no longer opportunity for preparation by good or bad deeds to those who have arrived at it; instead, whatever works you have sown for yourself you will have occasion to reap. For this reason he obliges you to practice repentance here, there being no practice of this kind of effort in Hades. He says, in fact, "Since the opportunity coming to me for repentance was lengthy, I am afraid death may precede your mercy, there being no room for confession there -- hence my request for your to be quick with your mercy." Then he instructs the listener that along with God's loving-kindness our effort is required, too: whether we plead weakness or confusion or God's goodness without contributing what is ours, it is of no benefit to us" (Theodoret of Cyrus: Commentary on the Psalms, 1-72, trans. Robet C. Hill (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2000), p. 75).

St. Augustine says: ""For in death there is no one that is mindful of Thee.” He knows too that now is the time for turning unto God: for when this life shall have passed away, there remaineth but a retribution of our deserts. "But in hell who shall confess to Thee?" That rich man, of whom the Lord speaks, who saw Lazarus in rest, but bewailed himself in torments, confessed in hell, yea so as to wish even to have his brethren warned, that they might keep themselves from sin, because of the punishment which is not believed to be in hell. Although therefore to no purpose, yet he confessed that those torments had deservedly lighted upon him; since he even wished his brethren to be instructed, lest they should fall into the same" (Commentary on the Psalms 6:6).

Cassiodorus says: "This may elicit the question, why does he say that in death no-one is mindful of God, whereas then we can be made to tremble more by the imminent anger of God? But when we speak of those unmindful of God, this properly refers to the unfaithful. Isaiah said of them: For those in hell will not praise thee, nor will those who are dead bless thee. When Paul says: In the name of of Jesus let every knee bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, the statement should be taken as referring only to the faithless and obstinate, who deserve to have no trust placed in their confession. So the psalmist rightly hastens to gain acquittal here, since once the sun has set nothing remains except deserved retribution. Who shall confess to thee in hell? We must mentally add "to win pardon." Compare Solomon's words on impious men: For they will say among themselves, repenting and groaning for anguish of spirit, and the rest. Then too we know that the rich man who saw Lazarus settled in peace confessed his evil plight, but he was not heard praying for help because it is in this world that confession connotes also obtaining pardon. To help us realize that some distinction is being made in the words of the verse, in death means passing from life, whereas in hell means hugging the place where souls are known to endure what they have deserved. There is total denial that a confession can be made in each of these situations" (Cassiodorus: Explanation of the Psalms, Vol. 1, trans. P. G. Walsh, (New York: Paulist Press,1990), p. 94f).

We find a very similar passage in Isaiah 38:18-19, which Cassiodorus references:

"For they that are in the grave shall not praise thee, neither shall the dead bless thee, neither shall they that are in Hades hope for thy mercy. The living shall bless thee, as I also do: for from this day shall I beget children, who shall declare thy righteousness."

St. Cyril of Alexandria says: "What is said in the psalm verse contains sentiments similar to this passage, "What value is there in my death if I descend into corruption? Dust will not praise you or proclaim your marvels [Psalm 29[30]:9]." In other words, once dead, and enclosed in the gates of Hades, they will cease giving praise. Nothing further could be added to what has been achieved; instead, they will remain in the condition in which they were left, and will await the time of the general judgment. So he is saying that it is the living, with the power of doing good on receipt of benefits who will bless you, as I do" (Cyril of Alexandria: Commentary on Isaiah, Vol. II, trans. Robert C. Hill (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2008), p. 300).

So here you have all of the Three Great Hierarchs, along with two great Latin Saints, St. Cyril of Alexandria (the preeminent Father of the Third Ecumenical Council), as well as two notable patristic commentators all saying essentially the same thing: the time for repentance is in this life. If you have not repented before death, it will then be too late.

For More Information:

To see what benefits prayers for the dead have, see: Stump the Priest: Prayers for the Dead in the Bible and in Tradition.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Stump the Priest: Did the Fathers Teach Sola Scriptura?

Icon of St. John Chrysostom, 
with St. Paul the Apostle 
guiding him in his interpretation of his writings.

Question: "Did the Fathers teach Sola Scriptura?"

Protestant apologists in recent years have felt the sting of the argument that doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) is not taught in Scripture, and so fails to meet its own criteria. So in an attempt to turn the tables on the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Apologists that have rubbed their noses in this fact, many have tried to argue that Sola Scriptura is taught by Tradition.

Before we go any further, we should make it clear what the doctrine of Sola Scriptura actually claims.

The Westminster Confession defines Sola Scriptura thusly:

“The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture” (Westminster Confession 1:10)

The 39 Articles of Anglicanism, which has long been included in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, says: “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church” (39 Articles of Anglicanism: “VI. Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation).

So to prove that the Fathers taught Sola Scriptura, one would have to find them not only teaching that Scripture was of primary importance, authoritative, and binding on the conscience -- they would need to also find them teaching that Scripture alone was an authority binding on the conscience.

There are a number of proof-texts that are cited, but for the sake of brevity, let's look at three examples:

1. St. Irenaeus (130 - 202 a.d.):

"We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith" (Against Heresies 3:1:1)

Interestingly St. Irenaeus, is alluding here to 1 Timothy 3:15: "But if I tarry long, I write so that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." The Church is the pillar and ground of the Truth. The Scriptures are the texts of the Church.

It should be obvious, however, that nowhere does St. Ireneaus suggest that Scripture alone is the pillar and ground of our Faith. And that he did not believe in Sola Scriptura is made very clear by other things he says in the same work. For example:

"As I said before, the Church, having received this preaching and this Faith, although she is disseminated throughout the whole world, yet guarded it, as if she occupied but one house.  She likewise believed these things just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart; and harmoniously she proclaims them and teaches them and hands them down, as if she possessed one mouth.  For, while the languages of the world are diverse, nevertheless, the authority of the Tradition is one and the same. Neither do the Churches among the Germans believe otherwise or have another Tradition, nor do those among the Iberians, nor among the Celts, nor away in the East, or in Egypt, nor in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world.  But just as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the Truth shines everywhere and enlightens all men who desire to come to a knowledge of the Truth. Nor will any of the rulers in the Churches, whatever his power of eloquence, teach otherwise, for no on is above  the Teacher; nor will he who is weak in speaking subtract from the Tradition.  For the Faith is one and the same, and cannot be amplified by one who is able to say much about it, nor can it be diminished by one who can say but little" [Against Heresies 1:10:2]."

"When, therefore, we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek among  others the Truth which is easily obtained from the Church.  For the Apostles, like a rich man in a bank, deposited with her most copiously everything which pertains to the Truth, and everyone whosoever wishes draws from her the drink of life.  For she is the entrance to life, while all the rest are thieves and robbers.  That is why it is surely necessary to avoid them, while cherishing with the utmost diligence the things pertaining to the Church, and to lay hold of the Traditions of Truth.  What then?  If there should be a dispute over some kind of question, ought we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches in which the Apostles were familiar, and draw from them what is clear and certain in regard to that question? What if the Apostles had not in fact left writings to us?  Would it not be necessary to follow the order of Tradition, which was handed down to those whom they entrusted the Churches?" [Against Heresies 3:4:1].

Many of the heretical groups that St. Irenaeus responded to his "Against Heresies" also claimed to follow the Scriptures. And though St. Ireneaus refuted them with Scripture, he also refuted them by appealing to the Tradition of the Church, which is where the correct understanding of Scripture is to be found.

2. St. Basil the Great (330 - 379 a.d.):

“The hearers taught in the Scriptures ought to test what is said by teachers and accept that which agrees with the Scriptures but reject that which is foreign.” (Basil, Moralia, 72:1)

This quote from St. Basil, taken in isolation, sounds like it might support the Protestant position, but there are two problems with this: it assumes that St. Basil would have interpreted the Scriptures apart from Tradition, or that at least, if he did, he would not have considered Tradition to be binding on his conscience while interpreting Scripture -- which is not at all stated even in this quote. But we do not have to guess at this. St. Basil left us with more than enough of his writings for us to determine what authority he gave to Tradition. In his treatise on the Holy Spirit, in which he argues that the Holy Spirit is a Person, and cites the doxology "Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen." in support of that argument. He counters the objection that the doxology, though an ancient part of the universal liturgical tradition of the Church, is not found in Scripture by saying:

"Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have received delivered to us "in a mystery" by the tradition of the apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force. And these no one will gainsay; — no one, at all events, who is even moderately versed in the institutions of the Church. For were we to attempt to reject such customs as have no written authority, on the ground that the importance they possess is small, we should unintentionally injure the Gospel in its very vitals; or, rather, should make our public definition a mere phrase and nothing more. For instance, to take the first and most general example, who is thence who has taught us in writing to sign with the sign of the cross those who have trusted in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ? What writing has taught us to turn to the East at the prayer? Which of the saints has left us in writing the words of the invocation at the displaying of the bread of the Eucharist and the cup of blessing? For we are not, as is well known, content with what the apostle or the Gospel has recorded, but both in preface and conclusion we add other words as being of great importance to the validity of the ministry, and these we derive from unwritten teaching. Moreover we bless the water of baptism and the oil of the chrism, and besides this the catechumen who is being baptized. On what written authority do we do this? Is not our authority silent and mystical tradition? Nay, by what written word is the anointing of oil itself taught? And whence comes the custom of baptizing thrice [i.e., by triple immersion]? And as to the other customs of baptism from what Scripture do we derive the renunciation of Satan and his angels? Does not this come from that unpublished and secret teaching which our fathers guarded in a silence out of the reach of curious meddling and inquisitive investigation? Well had they learnt the lesson that the awful dignity of the mysteries is best preserved by silence. What the uninitiated are not even allowed: to look at was hardly likely to be publicly paraded about in written documents. What was the meaning of the mighty Moses in not making all the parts of the tabernacle open to every one? The profane he stationed without the sacred barriers; the first courts he conceded to the purer; the Levites alone he judged worthy of being servants of the Deity; sacrifices and burnt offerings and the rest of the priestly functions he allotted to the priests; one chosen out of all he admitted to the shrine, and even this one not always but on only one day in the year, and of this one day a time was fixed for his entry so that he might gaze on the Holy of Holies amazed at the strangeness and novelty of the sight" (Treatise on the Holy Spirit, 66).

St. Basil is not trying to convince anyone that Christians should be baptized by a triple immersion -- he is appealing to the fact that everyone accepts this unwritten tradition to argue for authority of another unwritten tradition: the doxology. And one has to ask, how did this universally accepted Christian Tradition come to be universally accepted, if it did not come from the Apostles themselves? However, the bottom line here is the question of the authority of the Church. If you accept that the Orthodox Church is what it claims to be -- the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church established by Christ, then questions like this are easily answered.

3. St. John Chrysostom (347 - 407 a.d.):

"Scripture, though, whenever it wants to teach us something like this, gives its own interpretation, and doesn't let the listener go astray.... So, I beg you, block your ears against all distractions of that kind, and let us follow the norm of Sacred Scripture" (Homily 13:13 on Genesis, The Fathers of the Church: St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis 1-17, trans. Robert C. Hill (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1986), p. 175).

In context, St. John was simply admonishing his hearers to interpret Scripture within the context of the rest of Scripture. No where does he suggest only Scripture is binding on the conscience, and in fact when commenting on 2 Thessalonians 2:15, he says:

""Therefore brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or by our letter"  From this it is clear that they did not hand down everything by letter, but there was much also that was not written.  Like that which was written, the unwritten too is worthy of belief.  Let us regard the Tradition of the Church also as worthy of belief.  Is it Tradition?  Seek no further" [Homilies on the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians 4:2].

We could go on and on, but in every case, these attempts to prove the Fathers taught Sola Scriptura fall flat.

For more information, see:

Responses to Protestant Apologists on Sola Scriptura

Sola Scriptura: An Orthodox analysis of the Protestant view of Scripture, and an explanation of the Orthodox perspective

Not By Scripture Alone: A Catholic Critique of the Protestant Doctrine of Sola Scriptura, by Robert Sungenis.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Stump the Priest: How Important is Correct Theology?

Question: "Why does Orthodoxy teach that one must have perfect Nicene Christology in order to be saved, when the earliest Hebrew Christians did not have the Christology as articulated by the Councils of Nicea and Chalcedon? According to Nicea, many of the earliest Hebrew Christians would be heretics, as well as several Church Fathers, since they were subordinationists. We cannot even speak of a dogma of the Trinity until the Council of Constantinople."

The Church teaches perfect Nicene Christology, but I don't believe that the Church teaches that any individual has to have a perfect understanding of that Christology in order to be saved. There are many people who lack the intellectual capacity to have a perfect understanding of Orthodox Christology or Trinitarian theology. We should certainly try to understand these things as well as we can, but being saved is not the ability to pass a pop-quiz on theology. Someone can be saved even if they have demonstrably erroneous beliefs, but erroneous beliefs can lead one off the path of salvation, which is why the Church strives to correct such people. However, it is only when someone refuses to be corrected by the Church that they cut themselves off from the Church, which is the Ark of Salvation. For more on this, I would suggest reading "Christianity or the Church?" by the New Martyr Hilarion (Troitsky).

I am not sure which Church Fathers are alleged to have been subordinationists, but prior to the Church clarifying a doctrine, you often find those in earlier times who use imprecise language, but this does not mean that they held heretical views. But even if some of them did have opinions that were later clarified to be heretical, they clearly did not reject the correction of the Church on the matter.

As for the "Hebrew Christians" that are referenced, this probably refers to the Ebionites, and they were in fact a heretical sect. Most of the early Christian centers had a very strong Jewish core during the time of the Apostles, and those Hebrew Christians remained part of the mainstream of the Church.

The word "Trinity" does not occur in the New Testament, but the doctrine is taught there. One thing that the Jews were very clear on by the time of the New Testament is that God was one (Deuteronomy 6:4). And yet in the New Testament, we are told repeatedly that Christ is God (e.g., John 1:1; John 8:58John 20:28), and we are told to baptize in the name (singular) of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). So clearly, the Church has always taught that God was one, in one sense; and three in another sense. The Church only defined how this was so in greater detail because it was necessary to correct heresies that arose. The Faith of the Church was once delivered unto the saints (Jude 3), and so we reject the idea that our faith has changed, or been added to since the time of the Apostles. But our teachings about the faith have certainly become more precise over time, when the need to correct new heresies has made this necessary.

The earliest surviving use of the word "Trinity" (in Greek Τριάδος) is in the writings of St. Theophilus of Antioch, from a work written in about 180 a.d. (Apologia ad Autolycum 2:15). Though this is the first documented use of the term, it is used in such a way that would suggest it was not being freshly coined, and so probably was in use well before then... but in any case, the fact that the bishop of such an import center of early Christianity would use the term without any hint of it being controversial, shows that it was considered completely consistent with the faith that proceeded his time. St. Theophilus became bishop of Antioch in 169 a.d., and if we assume that he was at least 30 years old by that time, that means he would have come of age when those who knew the Apostles were still very much present in the Church.

We are not saved by having correct doctrine, or having a perfect grasp of the teachings of the Church. We are saved by grace through faith that works by love (Ephesians 2:8-10; Galatians 5:6; James 2:24). But having love does mean that we have to have the humility and love for the Church that inspires us to strive to conform ourselves to the teachings of the Church, and not think ourselves wiser than the Apostles and Fathers who have passed on the faith to us. And whether or not we ever come close to understanding the doctrine of the Trinity perfectly, if we are fully and faithfully united with the Church, the Church (which does understand this doctrine perfectly) will guide us safely along the path of salvation.

See also: 

Does Doctrine Matter?

The Doctrine of the Trinity