In order to understand the Trinity, it is important to understand what it is not. The Trinity does not deal with the relationship between humanity and God in Jesus. If you are interested in knowing why Christians consider Jesus to be (in some sense) God, please see the page on the Incarnation. Many (perhaps most) criticisms of the Trinity really involve issues that the Incarnation deals with. Historically, the Trinity came before the Incarnation. It was originally an attempt to deal with a group of people who saw Jesus as a supernatural entity somewhere above a human being but below God. At the council of Nicea, it was decided that this was wrong. In response, Nicea formulated a concept that has come to be called the Trinity. However the decision at Nicea was only the beginning of a century-long process that ended in the doctrine of the Incarnation. You should be aware that I'm going to discuss the Trinity as it finally came to be understood in the West at the end of this process. Some of this was only implicit in the original formulation, and the Eastern church has somewhat different ways of talking about it. The Trinity as Foundation of our Concept of God The Trinity is not about the number 3. It most specifically isn't about trying to believe that 3 = 1. The Trinity results from the following question: If (as Christians believe) Jesus shows us what God is like, what kind of God does he show us? Christians believe that when humans needed help, the way God chose to do it was to join us as a human being. Because this human being was God's presence, he was able both to live as humans are intended to, and to pass this ability on to others around him through spiritual union with him. So what Christianity says is that God is inviting us to join him in his way of living, his love. But what does that show us about God? In unitarian religions such as Islam and Judaism, God is outside us. He is the creator, father, and lawgiver. He loves us, but he experiences love only from one side: the side of the father. But Christianity says that God also experiences the other side: the obedient son who dies for his friends. A unitarian God asks of us a loving obedience, but that kind of love is one he hasn't experienced himself. The Christian God invites us to join him in a relationship between Father and Son that started with God. So what the Trinity says is that God is both Father and Son. This doesn't make him two Gods: these are two separate ways in which God experiences love, two roles or two "modes of being". Because the Bible speaks equally of the Holy Spirit as God's way of being present with us, the Holy Spirit is included in the Trinity, representing the presence of the Father with the Son and with us. God's presence is always personal, so it is best expressed as a person in the Trinity, rather than simply as something impersonal like "God's power." (Contrast the personal presence of the Holy Spirit with a concept like "the Force", which is essentially impersonal.) There is some debate among Christians whether one should think of the Trinity as three persons as we currently use the term "person". The danger in doing this is that we think of people as being essentially separate individuals. Thus calling God three persons would effectively lead to three Gods. However many writers argue that this is a sign that our concept of person is deficient. In the context of the Trinity, "person" refers to a center of relationship. In effect the persons are constituted by their relationship to each other. The persons of the Trinity are not individuals that then decide to love each other: the relationship of love is what defines them. However they act as such a tight unity that we need to think of them as one. Many believe that this should be seen as the ideal for human persons as well, although it is one that we don't currently conform to very completely. Being a person isn't about being something independent of everything else. A person is constituted by relationships with others. For human beings, a person is always a separate individual. But it need not be so. God shows us a model of persons whose love is so complete that their unity of action makes it appropriate to see them as a single actor. [b]Father, Son, and Holy Spirit[/b] The Trinity deals with the relationship among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Be aware that the term Son is used in several different ways in Christian theology. When we're talking about the Trinity, the term "Son" refers to the eternal Logos, God's creative power, not primarily to Jesus as a human being. (Of course it's impossible to completely separate them.) Jesus and early Christians often referred to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This terminology is used both in the Bible and in other early Christian writings. At a minimum, they can be understood as referring to different ways in which God works. The Father typically refers to God's role as creator and father. The Logos refers to God's word, his creative power. The Holy Spirit refers to God's presence with us and the rest of his creation. As used in the Bible and other writings, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit seem to have a certain distinction among them. That is, they seem to be more than just different ways in which God works with us. Rather, each seems to have a distinct personal existence. Nevertheless, it is clear that they are intended to be distinct roles of a single God, and not separate gods. The Latin term used is "persona". This originally referred to a theatrical role, and the mask used to define it. In fact there are at least two slightly different ways of speaking of the Trinity. In the West, theology tends to start with God as One, and see the persons as being distinguished only to the extent necessary for a personal relationship to exist. The Father is the source of the love, and the Son its recipient. The Holy Spirit can be understood as the presence of the Father with the Son. Thus these are separate personal roles within a single God. In Eastern theology the distinction is often described as a different in "origin." That is, the Father is the source of the Trinity. This single source is the basis of God's unity. The Son is begotten from him and the Spirit proceeds from him. A few Eastern writers tend to speak of the three persons more as individuals. Thus at times God starts to look like a commumity. However there's a limit to how far this can go, because all of Eastern theology is clear that God is a single "actor," with a single will. Everything God does is an act of the entire Trinity, acting as one, not as a committee. Gregory of Nyssa, in To Ablabius, looks at whether to say there is one God or three. One of his major arguments is that God has a single activity. Every action "starts off from the Father as from a spring; it is effected by the Son, and by the power of the Spirit it completes its grace. All providence, care, and attention of all ... and the preservation of what exists, ... is one and not three." God praying to himself? You'll often hear people say something like this: "The Bible shows Jesus praying to God. If Jesus is God, that would mean that God was praying to himself." But Christ is God incarnate, i.e. God and man. Christ prayed to his Father because he is a human being, and the way humans communicate with God is by prayer. However there's more to it than that. In Christian theology, Jesus is seen specifically as the incarnation of the Logos. While Jesus shows us all of God, he shows God specifically from the perspective of the Logos. But the Logos is the obedient Son, the recipient of the Father's love. The second person of the Trinity is the Son of God, his "Word" or Logos. To speak in this way of God as Son and Father is at once to imply a movement of mutual love, such as we indicated earlier. It is to imply that from all eternity God himself, as Son, in filial obedience and love renders back to God the Father the being which the Father by paternal self-giving eternally generates in him. Kallistos Ware, in The Orthodox Way, quoted at http://agrino.org/cyberdesert/kallistos.htm. I strongly recommend looking at this link for a good presentation of the Trinity from an Orthodox viewpoint. I don't know what sort of communication occurs within God, but a personal relationship implies some kind of communication. Thus we have to assume that there is something like communication between the Father and the Logos. Jesus' prayer to his Father is the human image of the communication between the Logos and the Father. [b]What do we mean by Son?[/b] When we're talking about God, the term "Son" is somewhat metaphorical. This shouldn't be a surprise. God is rather different from human beings. When we use human language in talking about him, we're always straining the limits of language. With human beings, father and son are completely separate people, who come into existence at different times. This is not true of God. The relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is part of what God is. Father and Son aren't exactly separate people in the usual sense. They are equally eternal, because they are both essential to God's being what he is. You can't have a Father without a Son. The term "Son" is used because the relationship between Father and Son in the Trinity has close analogies to the relationship among human fathers and sons. Indeed the human relationship is modeled after God's. But it is an analogy. It shouldn't be pushed farther than makes sense. Christian language sometimes talks about the Son being "begotten" by the Father. A few people (primarily Moslems) have taken this to mean that the Son is the result of a sexual relationship between God and Mary. That's impossible, since God is a purely spiritual being. The term "begotten" was used to emphasize that the Son is just as much God as the Father is. Just as human beings beget other human beings, the Father begets a Son who is just as much God as he is. But you shouldn't push the language any further than that. It doesn't mean that God reproduces in the same way that human beings do. In fact the son is "eternally begotten". That is, he isn't born at one time, as a human child is. The Father is the source of the Son continuously, as a spring is the source of a river. [b]Terminology[/b] I have avoided the traditional terminology of "person" and "substance" because I don't think it's likely to be meaningful to the people who are reading this document. However if you're going to understand Christian theology, you need to know about them. The Trinity says that there is one God, existing as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In order to talk about this, we need a word to refer to God "as a whole", and a word to refer to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit individually. Traditionally Christian theology talks about three "Persons" with one "substance" (or possibly "essence"). You will often see the Greek word "hypostasis" instead of Person, because many people think Person is a potentially misleading translation. While these basic terms are common, the East and West tend to speak of them in different ways. The West typically starts with the concept of one substance. While the term "substance" is open to different understandings, in the typical Western understanding, God is thought of as one "thing." We can classify properties into properties of a thing itself (size, color, etc), and relational properties (e.g. one thing is to the left of another). God is considered to be one in all respects except a couple of relational properties: begotten and proceeding. His power, eternity, etc, are all one. If you try to count God, you end up with only one: none of the distinctions that would allow you to identify separate entities apply to God. The only distinctions within God are the relations "begotten" (the relation between Father and Son) and "proceeding" (the relation between Father and Holy Spirit). Initially one might think that a relation implies at least two different things. However that's not necessarily the case. There are relations such as "identity" that apply to just one thing. Thus begotten and proceeding are not seen as relations that result in multiple gods. Rather, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are different ways in which God exists, i.e. different personal roles. But they are not separate things. The Catholic Encyclopedia gives the following answer to the question of whether there are three self-consciousnesses in God: Neither person nor mind is self-consciousness; though a person must needs possess self-consciousness, and consciousness attests the existence of mind (see PERSONALITY). Granted that in the infinite mind, in which the categories are transcended, there are three relations which are subsistent realities, distinguished one from another in virtue of their relative opposition then it will follow that the same mind will have a three-fold consciousness, knowing itself in three ways in accordance with its three modes of existence. It is impossible to establish that, in regard of the infinite mind, such a supposition involves a contradiction. (I should note that other portions of this discussion are close paraphrases of this article in the Catholic Encyclopedia.) The East tends to start with persons. The Trinity is the model for personal existence. Several Greek writers saw the key to God's unity as being unity of action. The three persons aren't a committee, each acting separately but in a coordinated way. Rather, they are so closely tied together that they act with a single action. Furthermore, all the things that make God God are only one. The three persons act together as a single authority. So there is one ultimate authority, one God. As a result of discussions about the Incarnation, the Church came to an agreement that Christ had two wills, the will of God and a human will. Technically, this associated wills and action with the nature (of which there are two in Christ) rather than the person (of which there is one). This pushed discussions about the Trinity to be clear that God has a single will, since the Trinity has only one nature. It's worth noting that the terms "substance" and "person" came to be technical terms with specific theological definitions. They were originally taken from Greek philosophy, although in the context of the Trinity and Incarnation they don't necessarily mean exactly what they meant in general philosophical usage. In common English usage, talking of three persons with one nature could mean three separate people who are alike in many ways. However in this context, nature is an actual thing. I am tempted to say that God is thought of as a single "thing", who however knows himself and relates to himself in three ways. That would probably be true for the West. It may not be precisely accurate for the Eastern model. One key difference between East and West focuses on a change made to the Nicene Creed in the West. The Western Church added the Latin word filioque ("and the Son"), so that instead of saying that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, in the West it says "from the Father and the Son." From the Eastern point of view, this is a big problem, because the unity of God depends upon the fact that there is only one uncreated, the Father, who is the source of the entire Trinity. However many Western writers seemed to be thinking of the relationship between God and us here. Jesus talks about sending the Holy Spirit to us. Hence from our point of view the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son, although probably "through the Son" would be better language. If "and the Son" is simply referring to Christ's role in sending the Spirit to us, it's not a problem. However the context in the Creed is one that is describing the relationship among the Persons. In that context, "and the Son" is questionable. [b]Critical Comments[/b] I think the Bible commits us to think of God as a Trinity. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are described as distinct. They are all described as God. But there is one God. So we need to see a single God, with a distinction within him. I am completely unimpressed by arguments that the Trinity is incoherent because there's no way three persons can constitute one God. Either he's one or he's three. These arguments are based on knowing just human beings. But the moment we move beyond that into science fiction or computer science, people have no problem conceiving of separate entities tied so tightly together that they form a single being (colonial telepathy and distributed systems). Computer science also gives us examples of a single entity that interacts with the world as multiple actors (a multiprocessor). I am not suggesting that God is actually a computer. I am simply indicating that once you start thinking more broadly than human beings, it's easy enough to conceive of all kinds of other ways of being. In fact even among human beings, marriage may be taken as an example of two persons becoming one actor. With us this is largely a metaphor. However in some particularly successful marriages it begins to go beyond just the metaphorical. The Trinity provides us with a model for ways in which persons can relate that avoids the opposite problems of a tyranny and a committee.
Please rate this
Gadget Votes: 0 |NaN out of 5