by Kate Hanch

Perichoresis Symbol of the Trinity (Source:
Perichoresis Symbol of the Trinity (Source:

In researching the development of the doctrine of perichoresis (the mutual indwelling of the three Trinitarian persons) last year for a class, I came across a name I had never heard of before: Phoebadius. Phoebadius was bishop of Agen in Gaul, and wrote a letter called Contras Arianos around 357 C.E. He was a contemporary to Hilary of Poitiers. Unfortunately, as of this date there is no book publishing the letter in English (as it was originally written in Latin), although I did find a translation from what appears to be part of a master’s work by Keith C. Wessel here.

Phoebadius is the first to come up with the phrase “community of divinity,”[1] or common divinity.  Phoebadius (d. ca. 392 C.E.) uses “community of divinity” as he writes against the Homoians, using Romans 11:36 as a proof.[2] The Homoians were a sect along the lines of Arianism that was eventually rejected as heretical because they refused to acknowledge the Father and Son’s similarity of essence. This belief led to an ontological subordination of the Son to the Father.[3]

This community of divinity remains focused upon the relationship between the Father and the Son. The community of divinity, while applied to the Father and the Son, could help theologians later on explain the concept of Trinitarian perichoresis. Phoebadius believes that the John 14’s Father-in-Son and Son-in-Father discourse allows for oneness. Further, he infers that the Third person, the Spirit, is a part of this community. It is essential to the structure of the Godhead.[4] The “community of divinity” could be established as a base by which the concept of perichoresis is formed.

Here are some lessons I learned about discovering a (new to me) early church figure:

1.     Learn the original languages. Knowledge of Latin would have helped me ascertain the reliability of Weedman’s and Wessel’s translations.

2.     Follow the footnotes. You never know what might turn up!

3.     Disciplines of biblical studies, theology, and church history are interconnected. The reason why perichoresis as a concept experienced a revival in the last 25 years is in part because theologians have turned to the early church sources for inspiration. These early church figures employed biblical texts to argue their points. As a student of theology, I have the responsibility of consulting biblical sources and documents from Christian history to form my perspective.

I don’t anticipate anyone naming their future child Phoebadius, but perhaps highlighting his letter may be helpful for those exploring the development of doctrine in the early church.

For more information on perichoresis, see for example Catherine Mowry LaCugna, God for Us: the Trinity and Christian Life, Reprint ed. (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993).

What new-to-you church figures have you discovered? How did you find them? What difficulties have you come across in your discovery?

[1] Mark Weedman, The Trinitarian Theology of Hilary of Poitiers, (Boston: Brill, 2007), 56.

[2] Ibid, 57. In Romans 11:36, Paul says “from him, in him, and with him.” 

[3] James Papandrea, Class Lecture, March 21, 2013, “Christology and Trinity in the Early Church”, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

[4] R.P.C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: the Arian Controversy 318-381 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark Ltd, 1988), 519.