The Catholic University of America

Thomas W. Ricks Defense

Final Examination of Thomas W. Ricks
For the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
Thursday, January 19, 2012 3:30p.m., Caldwell Room 125



Sidney Griffith, Ph.D.


William Loewe, Ph.D.


"Developing the Doctrine of the Trinity in an Islamic Milieu: Early Arabic Christian Contributions to Trinitarian Theology"

During the eighth and ninth centuries, in the Islamic empire governed from ‘Abbasid Baghdad, a new body of Christian literature appeared: theological treatises written in Arabic rather than in Syriac or Greek, and composed with the express purpose of articulating Christian doctrine in conscious dialogue with the religious discourse of the surrounding Islamic milieu. A number of these treatises sought to defend and further develop Trinitarian doctrine by drawing upon the terminology and conceptual range of the Qur’an, contemporary Muslim debates about the relationship between the divine attributes and the oneness of God, and the Islamic appropriation of Greek philosophical concepts, particularly those of Aristotelian metaphysics. The earliest such treatise is Fì ta³lì³ Àllah àl-wà id, a work of anonymous authorship from approximately the middle of the eighth century, which is also considered the earliest known Arabic Christian apologia on any subject. Other important writings on the subject include those of the Melkite Theodore Abù Qurrah (c. 750-c. 820), the Jacobite Habib ibn 4idman Abù Ra’i ah (c. 770-c. 835), and Ammar al-Baßri (fl. c. 830), an adherent of the Church of the East.

An important theme in these Trinitarian writings is the use of the terms Word and Spirit in reference to God in the Qur’anic text. Another is the question, then beginning to be important in internecine Muslim theological debates, of how God can be one and yet be described with multiple attributes. A third is the question of how a human attribute, such as begetting, could exist at all unless there is a corresponding attribute in God. In each of these areas of exploration, the Arabic Christian authors here considered seek to demonstrate that only Trinitarian doctrine fully satisfies the language of the Qur’an itself, the Islamic emphasis on God’s transcendence, and the demands of a rigorous metaphysical account. One striking characteristic of this body of Arabic Christian apologetical literature is its approach of using the very elements of Islamic discourse that were perceived as most opposed to Christian doctrine (for example, Qur’anic “proof texts” against the Trinity) as evidence for Trinitarian doctrine.