For those whose busy schedules prevent them from diving into the deep end of the Trinitarian pool.

Why Is There a Trinity?

Why is there a Trinity? Or, more specifically, why is there a Christian doctrine that maintains that there are three distinct “persons,” as the Christians call them, who nonetheless constitute one God? If we attempt to open up that terse dogmatic pronouncement of three in one, what emerges is the conviction that the One True God of Israel, though both unique and undivided, is constituted of three distinct individuals. This triune God whom the Christians worship is more briefly characterized as “the Trinity.”

The assertion is simply that, a declarative statement of Christian belief. It is paradoxical on the face of it –-Three = One– and yet why it was held begins to make somewhat more sense if we more closely identify the three called Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The earliest Christians were all Jews and thus staunch monotheists, and they never denied that they, like all Jews, were worshippers of Yahweh, the One True God. The Holy Spirit was also familiarly Jewish. For centuries before and after the Jesus era, Jews generally had no problem following what they found in the Bible and thinking of Yahweh’s own personified Spirit as also divine, likewise God’s personified Word, his Wisdom, his Glory, his Presence and his Torah, all without compromising Yahweh’s singularity or their own monotheism.

None of this troubled the Jews before and during Jesus’ day, but after his death, the followers of this Galilean preacher began publicly to proclaim that he was not only the Messiah of Israel, a uniquely Jewish claim and one that others made before and after him, but that he was divine as well. The Jewish Messiah, the “Son of Man” of the Book of Daniel, was generally understood to be God’s supernatural agent for settling scores at the End Time, but in Jesus’ case his followers’ claim was more specific and more assertive, that Jesus was himself divine; that he was the Son of Yahweh, the one the Lord referred to when he said “You are my son; this day it is I who have begotten you” (Ps. 2:7).

It is not entirely clear how Jews understood that particular statement, whether as a metaphor or as a prediction regarding the End Time, but there is no sign that anyone of Jesus’ generation was checking his fellow Jews for a possible Son of Yahweh. In the early 30s of the first century, however, the followers of the late preacher and wonder-worker, Jesus of Nazareth, were claiming just that for their recently deceased master, whom some swore had been raised from the dead.

It was Scripture, both the Jewish Bible and the Christian New Testament, that put forward the father-son relationship, but it was the Christians who identified the Scriptural “son” with a contemporary human being and claimed that he was also in fact divine. But since they were all Jews to the core, those earliest Christians continued to insist that they were monotheists. That they were such was not apparent to everyone, however, and the new Jewish sectarians were soon called upon to explain how, in light of the fact that they worshipped Yahweh in his Jerusalem Temple and in Jewish synagogues throughout the Diaspora and also prayed to Jesus in their own sectarian “assembly” (ekklesia), they could claim there was really only one God, who was, marvelously but distinctly, two.

Or three. As already noted, Jews of that era were accustomed to describing some of Yahweh’s qualities, his wisdom, for example, his spirit or his creative word of command, as if they were personified entities. Yahweh’s “Word” could thus be spoken of as his “first-born son,” or “Wisdom” as his “eldest daughter,” both of them said to be “present from the beginning.” Jews also regarded the Holy Spirit of God, like the parallel notions of his Glory or his Presence (shekinah), as somehow “divine.” “Divine” (theios) was the supple adjective that served to bridge the gap between the abstract “divinity” (theiotes), which is sometimes translated as the “Godhead,” and the particular and very personal “God” (theos), the latter all too unmistakably Yahweh.

Like some of the later Muslim theologians, Jews professed these beliefs bila kayf, “without explaining how.” What they offered was a kind of explanation by analogy, in this instance a biological analogy, one that resulted in what might be called a non-compromising “metaphorical polytheism.” Spirit, Wisdom and Word were striking dramatic and poetic images, but no Jew believed or acted on the notion that Yahweh had an actual daughter quietly spinning in Hebron or a son doing cabinetry work in Nazareth. At first the Christians were content to follow the same course, to assert rather than explain, but eventually, and perhaps inevitably, they succumbed to the temptation of theology and attempted to explain how Two, and eventually Three, could in fact equal One. The result was the Trinity.

“The Trinity,” which is not to be found as such in the Scriptures, Jewish or Christian, is an artifact, a very human construction fashioned in the workshop of Christian theologians who stretched a very thin fuselage over an implausible conceptual structure. Essentially, to use one the theologians’ favorite terms, it is the paradoxical assertion that the God of Christian belief is both one and three or, somewhat more accurately, both simple and threefold. If we attempt to open up that terse dogmatic pronouncement of three in one, what emerges is the conviction that the One True God of Israel, though both unique and undivided, is constituted of three distinct individuals. This is the triune God that the Christians worship and that is more briefly characterized as “the Trinity.”

Jesus’ followers did not much concern themselves with God’s personified “Wisdom,” but they spoke often of the “Word” and the “Holy Spirit” of Yahweh, and the latter seems to have played from the start an extraordinarily important, albeit authentically Jewish role in Christian consciousness as a validation of Jesus’ message and as a guide to its fulfillment. It is described as present at crucial moments of Jesus’ career (Mk. 1:10 etc.) and in the life of the community of believers he left behind (Acts 1:4 etc.). Paul invokes it often (Rom. 1:4 etc.), and John’s Gospel has Jesus promise that at his departure, he, or the Father, will send the Spirit as an “advocate” (parakletos) to continue his work (Jn. 14:16, 26). From the very beginning the Christian initiation ritual of baptism was administered “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

Jesus’ Jewish followers, with their special cult of the Holy Spirit, might have comfortably fit their beliefs about Jesus into that same proof by analogy paradigm save for their early and unswervingly held conviction, based principally on his witness-attested resurrection from the dead, that Jesus was himself divine. Jewish monotheism of that day was a more flexible thing than its later version, and there might also have been room within its capacious folds for Jesus as somehow “divine, ”if not “a divinity.” And perhaps even as a “son” of Yahweh, whom Jesus habitually and familiarly referred to as his “father.” The Christians pushed harder than that, however. Already in the immediate aftermath of his death, they were arrogating to Jesus the title of “Lord” (Kyrios), a title reserved for Yahweh and, more tellingly, they prayed to Jesus; in short, they worshipped him.

Yahweh, the Spirit and Jesus were thus all “givens” of the Christian experience. The first two were unremarkable inheritances from the earliest Christians’ own Jewish tradition. The third was, however, the specific marker that set them apart as a Jewish sect: in the first instance, their belief in Jesus’ Messiahship and, more profoundly, their conviction of his divinity. It was this latter that had the unintended consequence of elevating the issue of the divinity of the Holy Spirit to a level of actuality that it had not previously enjoyed among Jews. What remained was for Christians to explain to themselves and to others the mutual relationships among the three.

Those relationships were highly asymmetrical ones. Yahweh was the divinity purely and simply, both personal God and ontological Godhead. On the Biblical evidence, he was understood as a highly personified individual -–the Bible is in a sense his biography— who is often named but is just as often referred to simply as “God” (theos) or “the Lord” (Kyrios), a doubled epithet that gave Christians the opportunity of arrogating one of them for Jesus; they chose “Lord.” What is notable about the Biblical career of Yahweh -–we know little or nothing of popular devotion– is that he grows less personal and more transcendent with time, more remote from his creation; he requires, or perhaps prefers, that “messengers” (angeloi), or the Spirit, do his bidding. A space had opened between Yahweh and the world he had made.

John knows the Jesus biographical narrative that is first found in Mark and then is edited and expanded in Matthew and Luke, but he has a somewhat more specific agenda in mind in his own Gospel from later in that first century. It is set forth without disguise in the prologue to the Gospel, and it is detailed in the numerous discourses that John has composed for Jesus and distributed across his narrative. From its first words John’s prologue (1:1-14) identifies Jesus with the personified divine Word/Wisdom familiar from Proverbs, Wisdom and Ben Sirah, though the precise identification here is with the masculine Logos-Word rather than with the feminine Sophia-Wisdom. Nor does John shy away from the paradox: as God’s Word, Jesus was instrumental in both creation and in God’s self-revelation to the world; and as Jesus of Nazareth, “the Word become flesh” (Jn. 1:14).

Finally, there is the familiar Biblical Spirit of God, who is individualized but never fully personified in Christian writings. The “spirit” is literally the breath of God and often functions as such in the Bible, breathing upon or “inspiring” the prophets in particular. It acts similarly in the New Testament, and there its presence is described as descending “like a dove” or “like tongues of fire,” weak figurings indeed compared to the rich literary portrait of Yahweh in the Bible and the highly detailed biographies of Jesus offered by the Gospels. In the transaction called the “Trinity,” the Holy Spirit has all the earmarks of that mysterious “player to be named later” of Major League baseball.

How did the Christians explain the relationship? The Scriptures constrained Christians to affirm that the Father “begot” the Son and, by implication, the Spirit as well. Jesus was, of course, born in the normal way, though no one is quite sure when or under what circumstances. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ nativity in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels are transparent later additions to the texts and are more the stuff of legend than of history. Luke’s version does its best to deal with “begot.” Mary’s pregnancy will be accomplished, it is explained to her, because the Spirit will “come upon you” or, to restate it in other words, “the power of the Almighty will overshadow you”(Lk. 1:35).

The metaphor of birth was at once too physical and too human to provide an explanation of how the transcendent Yahweh and the ambiguous Jesus stood, one to the other. Rather than the Scriptural “begot,” the earliest Christian theologians preferred, particularly when speaking to more general audiences, the term “proceeded from,” which summoned up or, more practically, made available, the familiar Platonist image of “emanation.” They exchanged the Scriptures’ earthbound biological figure of father and son for one drawn from ancient astrophysics: the eternal out-flowing of the sun’s rays from an undiminished source of energy.

The Scriptural “begotten” -–the Father alone was “unbegotten”—did not disappear of course, and the more technical and less concrete “procession” was left at that, though with the rather pointless hangnail question of whether the Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son. The discussion turned rather to the divinity of the three and how they could in fact be one. The divinity issue was addressed by again moving away from the Scriptural language whose straightforward concreteness might serve to illustrate something but never quite explain it to unconvinced Jews and incredulous pagans. A new generation of Greek-trained Christian theologians from the end of the second century into the third began to invoke the familiar language of science, specifically the science of theology, when explaining the matter. The three were identically divine because they were of the identical divine “substance” (ousia). Just as humans, who are distinct and different individuals, share in a common humanity, so the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and they alone, share in a common “deity” and yet remain distinct individuals, three “persons,” as the Latin speakers of the West called them; “hypostases” to the more sophisticated Easterners.

Once the Trinitarian issue had been raised, the pendulum swings back and forth between an insistence on the unity of “God” and an equally firm assertion of the reality and/or individuality of the three entities regarded as divine, each position at the inevitable expense of the other. To say that the three all shared the same Godhead but nonetheless remained distinct individuals was not to explain but simply to reassert in philosophical jargon what the Scriptures had already said in metaphorical language. Indeed, the recourse to “substance” (ousia) might invite one to think that “God” or “Godhead” was the genus and Father, Son and Spirit were separate (one member) species, something the Christians of course denied. And the Father represented a particular difficulty: he was, it appeared, God tout simple, the Godhead, and, at the same time, a distinct member of the three.

There were explanations, but none of them took the simple and obvious route of conceding that there were in fact two Gods, Father and Son, or perhaps even three. The Christians were, it seems, too stubbornly Jewish to desert monotheism, which might appear odd at first sight since increasing numbers of Christians had never been Jews to begin with. But Christianity was from the outset, and remains, a Jewish affiliate, or perhaps even a Jewish sect, since the case for Jesus rests in the first instance on his fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, and his entire mission, and so the Church’s own, is conceived of in terms of a Jewish worldview. Finally, Jesus is made to announce in John’s Gospel that “I and the Father are one,” and there is no mistaking or disguising the fact that the “Father” in question is none other than the very Israelite Yahweh whose primary residence is in the Hebrew Bible.

There were roadmaps out of this dilemma. The Greco-Roman intelligentsia had already moved beyond the mythological tales of the teeming pantheon that dwelled atop Mt. Olympus to a more pristine conception on a single transcendent and eternal High God, remote from all change or diminution. The Monad was a brilliant philosophical concept if not a particularly religious one: all plurals backward ran until they reach the one. And, as eternally “on” –Aristotle had convincingly demonstrated that the chicken must necessarily precede the egg– the One produced all the twos, threes and fours that are our world by the overflow, the “emanation,” of his own infinite goodness.

When this paradigm was applied to the Greek myths –the ancients were as loathe to completely discard their myths as the Jews and Christians were to consign their Scriptures to the dustbin of legend— it elevated Zeus to very exclusive quarters far above even the peak of Olympus, but it downgraded the rest of the Olympians to the status of demigods or messengers and agents of Zeus’ will or whims, or merely aspects or attributes of the High God. Apollo and Athena were seconded to the growing numbers of intermediaries who had begun to inhabit the widening space between the One and the rest of the numbers.

Yahweh too, once an activist deity in the Pentateuch, was drifting upward and outward in the later books of the Bible, and the Jews too were filling the space with their own intermediaries, good ones like the many angelic “messengers,” a very bad one like Satan, both of whom the Christians accepted without demur, and those hard-working personifications, the Wisdom, the Spirit and the Word, who effected and guided Yahweh’s plan for his creation. The Holy Spirit was already at home there among the quasi-divine; why not the Christ? Because, the Christians understood, the Christ was not a personification but a person, Jesus of Nazareth, who, unlike the Holy Spirit, was born and died. He was the Word but, as John had loudly announced, “the Word became flesh.” The Lord Jesus was not downgraded to the level of the Spirit; it was the Spirit that was elevated to full and distinct divinity.

Procession or begetting, however the relationship between the God of Israel and Jesus of Nazareth was expressed, it involved a passage from -> to, with the unavoidable implication of the priority, ontological, chronological or simply sequential, of the former. If it is said of the Word that he was “begotten from all eternity,” the statement covers but does not conceal the essential priority of the Scriptures’ “Father” to his “Son” and the theologians’ begetter to the begotten.

This issue of equality vs. dependence never arose for the Jews with respect to Yahweh and his “firstborn” Word or Wisdom of Proverbs or Ben Sirah because they never felt the need to explain what everyone understood was a metaphor, a manner of speaking. Jews professed their beliefs regarding the Spirit, Word and Wisdom of God, but they stayed well clear of hypostases and of turning poetry into science, pretty talk into reality. Those early Christian Jews could not follow suit without diminishing the divinity or the actuality of Jesus. The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, continued to linger in the penumbra of its Jewish metaphorical origins.

If Father and Son were both actual, that is, “persons” or “hypostases” and, as the Christians believed, divine, both right reason and common sense demanded that the Father enjoy a degree of superiority or at least priority vis a vis his Son. This much some Christians exploring this vast uncharted terrain seemed reluctantly willing to concede. Others were somewhat bolder in pushing the logic of Scriptural passages thought to refer to Jesus, and in particular Proverbs 8:22-23 which asserted that “the Lord created me [Wisdom] the first of his works, long ago before all else that he made. I was formed in the earliest times, at the beginning, before the earth itself.” Had not the Lord also said “This day it is I who have begotten you” (Ps. 2:7), and had not John reported Jesus himself saying in unmistakable terms that “The Father is greater than I” (14:28)? John is filled with suggestions that Jesus had received both his mission and his teaching from the Father, that he was, by implication, the Father’s real Paraclete.

Church tradition identifies the chief logic-pusher as Arius (250-336 AD), a cleric of Alexandria, though the matter was by no means that of a single voice. Since the Word was begotten, as all Christians confessed –the historical Jesus is not the issue here, but the Logos of John’s Gospel– it was reasonable to conclude, as Arius and others did, there must have been a time when he was not. God alone, that is, the Father, the Biblical Yahweh, is unbegotten and unchangeable. “We are persecuted,” Arius wrote, “because we say that the Son had a beginning and that God [the Father] is without beginning.” As a creature, then, Jesus could not be of the same substance (homo-ousios) as the Father. In his divinity he was at best, in a term supplied by the Arians, “of a similar substance” (homoi-ousios).

At this point, however, the Trinitarian discussion, which for two and a half centuries had ebbed and flowed in Christian circles around the Mediterranean, took a new turn. Christian assemblies, each with a bishop at its head, had been increasing in number and slowly arranging themselves in a kind of hierarchical order around the bishops of great metropolitan centers like Alexandria, Antioch and Rome, Now, with the emperor Constantine’s conversion in the opening decades of the fourth century, Christians had a sovereign who saw himself responsible not only for the Empire but also for what could now be called simply “the Church,” the Christian congregations viewed as a corporate whole.

Previously, free-ranging discussions of the Trinity and other matters of Christian doctrine were local or regional. Uniformity of belief had, however, been a particularly Christian concern from the beginning, and bishops, whose office and powers were growing, attempted, not terribly successfully, to control and shape the discussions through their own pronouncements or, in the case of metropolitan bishops, through regional synods of bishops under their jurisdiction. Constantine was not a theologian –he thought the Trinitarian discussion was an argument about minutiae, as mischievous as it was pointless—but he was enough of a Roman to recognize in its growing dimensions of dissent a threat to the peace and order of his Church. So in 325 A.D. he summoned all the bishops of the Great Church to Nicea, a town across the Bosphorus from the capital of Constantinople, to debate and settle the issue of Father and Son. Like the later conclaves of cardinals charged with the election of a pope, the bishops in council debated and voted until they thought they had it right, or at least until they agreed, which is what the emperor most desired.

The bishops at Nicaea agreed but they did not settle. Their agreement was issued in the form of a communiqué that was a declaration of the Church’s official teaching, a formal statement of doctrine, with an explicit ban of some counter-proposals. The declaration was called a “creed” from its opening word, “We believe…” which in recitative contexts becomes “I believe,” in Latin, credo. Its formal Greek designation was, however, symbolon, which as a technical term represents something close to the English “ID” or “password.” There had been more general creeds issued earlier by local synods as well as briefer, creed-like formulae used by various churches as formal declarations of belief required at baptism. This was, however, the first such declaration that professed, by reason of the nature of the assembly and the emperor’s imprimatur, to represent the doctrine of the “universal church” (katholike ekklesia).

The creed produced by the 300-odd bishops at Nicea is a kind of pastiche, composed of what must have been fairly standard baptismal formulas and technical, and argumentative, explanations. It begins with an assertion that Christians are, like the good Jews they once were, monotheists, that is, they believe in the One True God, and though he is now called by Jesus’ designation, “Father,” he is unmistakably the Biblical Yahweh, “maker of all things, visible and invisible.”

The creed next turns to the crucial belief in Jesus, “the Lord Jesus Christ,” as the Christians thought of him, “the Son of God.” That is what the New Testament called him and that is what Christians believed. It is at that point that Scripture’s descriptive characterization of Jesus is left behind and the creed embarks on an attempt at an explanation of the relation between Jesus and Yahweh. First the Scripture’s “Son” metaphor is paraphrased: Jesus is “the only-begotten” or “generated by” (or “from” or “out of”) the Father,” which is immediately explained as “from the same essence or substance (ousia) as the Father,” hence it can be asserted that he is “(true) God from true God.” There follow two critical clarifications. Jesus is “generated, not made,” that is, he is not to be thought of as a “creature” or a “thing.” He is in fact “consubstantial” (homo-ousios) with the Father.”

“Consubstantial“ is a philosophical term of art that had entered Trinitarian discussions decades earlier and was here suggested by Constantine himself as the mot juste theologique. The suggestion may have been made with a sigh of exasperation; the emperor was no admirer of theological dialectic. But the word seemed to serve as a neat explanation of how Jesus and Yahweh could both be God: they both shared in “Godness. And homoousios was eventually the same passport with which the Holy Spirit later entered the Trinity: it too was “consubstantial” with the Father and the Son.

There is then a nod at Jesus as the Word (Logos) of John’s Gospel, present and active at Creation: “(Jesus), by whom all things were made…” which leads into a critical reflection on that same Word as incarnate savior: “the one who for us humans and for our salvation came down and took on flesh and humanity.” It was this clause that in the decades after Nicea opened the door to a resolution of the Christian paradox of Christian belief in a transcendent Yahweh/Father and a human Jesus/Son: God had to become mortal and suffer a genuine death to effect the salvation of humankind. Jewish sacrifice was a ritual of atonement: this was the supreme sacrifice, the death of the God-Son.

The same theme is carried forward somewhat more circumstantially in the next clause: “He suffered and on the third he rose again and ascended into the heavens,” and with an acknowledgement of Jesus’ eventual return to complete the Messianic mission, “will come to judge the living and the dead.”

The Holy Spirit is dealt with simply and briefly: “…and [we believe] in the Holy Spirit.”

So it ends. But the bishops, since they, and assuredly the emperor, were as interested in exterminating as in confirming, added a series of anathemas or formal condemnations directed specifically against those —and we know who you are is the unmistakable subtext– who said of the Son of God “that there was a time when he was not” or “that he was made out of nothing” or that he was “from a different hypostasis or ousia or a created thing or changeable or alterable”; in short, all those who denied that he was the ontological equal of the Father.

The Nicene Creed gives the impression of being “thrown together,” as its technical name, symbolon, suggests. So it must have seemed to others as well since in 381 there was another such Church-wide council of bishops at Constantinople —there had been 300-odd at Nicea, but only half that number at Constantinople—who revised the Nicene Creed, chiefly, from our Trinitarian perspective, with regard to the Holy Spirit. The Nicene original “…and in the Holy Spirit was now altered to “and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Life-Giver, who proceeds from the Father, who, together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, and who spoke through the prophets.

The effect of the expansion, which makes explicit traditional Christian beliefs rather than adding new ones, now formally affirms that the Spirit too is “Lord” (Kyrios), the same title of divinity predicated of Jesus. But while Jesus was the Son, “begotten by the Father,” in accordance with what the Scriptures say, the Spirit is here described as “proceeding from the Father,” a formula that owes far more to the current Platonism and its emanationism –and the ever-popular analogy of the sun and its rays— than it does to any New Testament evidence. The new creed does not say, however, that the Spirit is “consubstantial” with the Father and the Son, not because the bishops thought the Spirit inferior, but more likely because the term homoousios and its conflicting interpretations were causing discomfort in many circles and it may have been thought wiser to avoid it altogether here.

This was not certainly the end of the discussion or the last attempt at explaining what Christians believe or, more pointedly, must believe on the matter of the Trinity. Apart from differing interpretations of their technical terms, there were, and remain, two basic problems with these creeds. The first is that the critical terms used there have no Scriptural warrant. “Three hypostases!” the Latin Church Father Jerome snorted, “What Apostles authorized them? What new Paul has promulgated this doctrine?” The problem here of course was that the warranted Scriptural language described but did not explain; the Scripture, the three Synoptic Gospels in particular, presented the paradox of two divine beings and went no further than calling them “Father” and “Son,” which everyone understood was not literally true.

Believers of all stripes, increasing numbers of them non-Jews raised in a Greco-Roman tradition, undertook to explain the metaphor. It was left to the bishops, however, whose responsibility it was to stand guard over the true faith, to set things aright. They followed in the footsteps of Paul and John and attempted to theologize, to explain what the Scriptures had merely described. But Paul had claimed for himself, and had been granted, the cachet of Apostle, while John, an actual Apostle, had more consequentially put his theology in the mouth of Jesus himself. From the mid-second century explanations of the relationship between Jesus, whom his followers regarded as divine, and Yahweh, the God whom Jesus himself worshipped, was cast in the terms borrowed from Greek philosophy and applied to the givens of revelation. If the function of philosophy, and of its subset, theology, was “saving the apparent,” that is, to explain what our senses present to us, the aim of this new or introductory version of “sacred theology” was to “save the revelation” by simply renaming some of its moving parts.

The revised creed of Nicea, if it was the first definitive word on the Trinity on the part of the corporate Church, it was by no means the last. Though the basics had been laid down as dogma –One God, three equally divine individuals— the Church continued to define and refine, with the understanding that one creed or dogmatic statement does not cancel another. Only the Church could define, but anyone could explain and there were many, past and present, who have attempted to explain how and why One could be Three.

The second objection to the creed, a more modern one, is that the Greek conceptual system used at Nicea and long after to unpack the language and figures of Scripture is no longer thought adequate to the task of explaining reality. “Essence,” hypostasis” and “consubstantial,” all staples of the then current mélange of Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics, have fallen into disuse and indeed into disfavor, and “person” too has migrated into far richer conceptual fields than the Fathers conceived of. A contemporary expositor of the Trinity might be tempted to turn rather to the neurology of the brain or the operating platforms of digital computers to explain the Trinity.

Between Nicea and the moderns, a multitude of heuristic keys have been turned in that troublesome triune lock by every master locksmith from Augustine of Hippo to Karl Barth. The Church, for its part, no longer wardens Trinitarian discussion as closely as it once did since early on it also pronounced the paradox of the Trinity insoluble and, though its “givens,” the Oneness of God and the existence of the Father, the divine Christ and the equally divine Holy Spirit, are provided by an inerrant Scripture, the mode of their triune being incomprehensible. The Trinity is, in the formal language of the Church, a mystery, that is, a truth that is beyond the comprehensive powers of the human intellect.


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