This article presents a theory about a distinctive, but still neglected, approach to trinitarianism in the early church which was founded explicitly in demanding practices of prayer and personal transformation. The central thesis of the article is that this approach (with its characteristic appeal to Romans 8, and its Spirit-initiated prayer of an elevated or ascetic sort) was set on a course of almost inevitable tension with certain kinds of episcopal authority, and particularly with post-Nicene renditions of ‘orthodoxy’ as propositional assent. The theory is not to be confused, however, with a rather tired sociological disjunction between institution and ‘charisma’; the matter is spiritually more subtle than that, and implies vying perceptions of theological power, ‘orthodoxy’, and the nature of the ecclesial body. In this article I opt for a focus on the relation between Origen's De oratione (one of the finest discussions of the implications of Romans 8 for Christian contemplation), the suggested influence of Origen on early Antonite monasticism, and the still-mysterious motivations for Theophilus’ first attack on Origenism and the monks of Nitria in 399. The picture that emerges, once this distinctive prayer-based approach to the Trinity is clarified, is one of a late fourth-century crisis of simultaneous rejection, domestication and attempted assimilation of this elite spirituality of intra-divine incorporation.