How does the doctrine of the Trinity help us?

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Christians are monotheistic as they claim.

It would seem, then, that the doctrine of the Trinity can only be a way of specifying what it means to say that God is One. The Trinity cannot be about anything other than God as One, because this would be a contradiction and would admit plurality and limitation into God (you would be talking about something else, or some other part of God, which is contradictory).

So, how does the Trinity help anyone better understand what it means to say that God is One?

The word trinity was used to try and describe the relationship between GOD the Father, Son, and Spirit. You say GOD is one and no Christian will ever deny that as there is no other GOD. But Christians believe GOD as one exists in 3 natures. The trinity does not try to reveal 3 separate GODs.

I am trying to grant that it isn’t polytheistic. I believe Christians mean it when they claim that God is One.

I suppose I am trying to understand why it isn’t either non-sense, at worst, or simply unhelpful and confusing, at best. What is gained by such a doctrine? How does the Christian claim that God is three persons (natures?) help me, or anyone else, better understand what it means that God is One.

[My impression, for instance, is that most Christians don’t really understand what it means; insofar as they are monotheists, it doesn’t add anything to their belief or clarify anything for them; they just feel like they have to say it.]

Small, minor (but vital!) correction: We believe God exists as 3 PERSONS, not 3 natures. God has one nature, three persons. :thumbsup:

(and we believe this because this is how God has revealed Himself to us, as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; all the same One God)

The issue that you seem to have is two-fold. First, I am not sure that you understand exactly what the Trinitarian Dogmas do. They are means to explain the Infinite God to the Finite Man. It is like trying to empty the ocean with a cup. It is impossible to fully do it. The Dogma is not simple to comprehend, but it is easy to state and accept as an act of faith. The second issue is that you may be trying to force a Muslim understanding upon a Christian doctrine. It cannot and will not work. Islam is so totally different than Christianity in Theology and basic understanding of God that you must stop viewing the world in through the eyes of the Qur’an in order to begin to see.

It does accomplish what it was intended to: it makes clear what is heretical, like teaching that Jesus is not God or that Jesus is a separate diety.

Hypatia if you read the creation account in the OT GOD states "let ‘us’ make man in ‘our’ image. Plural pronouns are being used there. Who is the ‘us’ and ‘our’ GOD is referring to then? As far as what is gained by the doctrine of the trinity nothing is gained. It’s an attempt to try and understand the relationship between the Father Son and Spirit.

[My impression, for instance, is that most Christians don’t really understand what it means; insofar as they are monotheists, it doesn’t add anything to their belief or clarify anything for them; they just feel like they have to say it.]

Well I don’t feel like I have to say anything. The creed is a statement of what Christians believe. Many may not understand it. The problem you have is you are trying to explain an infinite GOD with finite language. What does it mean to say GOD is one? That HE is the only GOD, that HE is only one person that is a GOD? Who’s to say GOD can’t exist as 3 persons if HE so chooses? Isn’t GOD capable of doing anything?

Thanks Chris. I always say that backwards :slight_smile:

Let’s start with the second issue first, because right up to the point where Christians start talking about the Trinity I do not see any real difference in the theology of God or the basic understanding of God in Christianity and Islam. In fact, I proposed the thread in the manner I did because I think there is a lot of agreement and I was hoping that if we started from that point of agreement something might emerge.

Now returning to your first point. I can buy the whole that our language is finite and we are trying to talk about God who is beyond all Being and Knowing. This applies to our most fundamental language about God: One, Good, Being, Truth, etc. The Christian philosophers like to say that the language is “analogous”, and that is fine with me for the moment. But Trinitarian language seems to be doing something other than that?

So if I understand you – “The Dogma is not simple to comprehend, but it is easy to state and accept as an act of faith” – this just seems to suggest that the doctrine is irrational but you believe it anyway because it is a faith statement about things we can’t comprehend. And, drawing off your very last sentence, that it provides you some grammatical rules about what you can and can’t say, even if it is not clear how they all fit together: e.g., Jesus is God; The Father is God; Jesus is not the Father; God is One.

But why would you want to say those things (at least in such a way that you really mean them) to start with? Why couldn’t Christians say the language about Father and Son was a metaphor…like God sitting on a throne (which both the Bible and Qur’an says, but neither Christians nor Muslims take it literally for the most part…it is poetic or mythic language). And then you avoid the whole confused mess. Right?

I don’t think there is much to be gained by confusing a royal-we with an actual statement of plurality. The Queen may refer to herself as “we” all she wants, but nobody actually accuses her of having multiple personality disorder. It is just a figure of speech.

What does it mean to say GOD is one? That HE is the only GOD, that HE is only one person that is a GOD? Who’s to say GOD can’t exist as 3 persons if HE so chooses? Isn’t GOD capable of doing anything?

It means that God is absolute and undivided, that God is not relative to anything, that God is the total horizon of all that is, that God is Being itself and not a being at all. So…yes, I admit I have a really hard time understanding how God is 3 anythings and it be a meaningful statement.

As for the last line, the usual answer to that last question is usually no…God is not capable of doing anything…not because God is weak and somethings are beyond God, but because God is perfect and there are things that would actually contradict being God. God cannot not be somewhere (i.e., God is omnipresent); God cannot change, etc. etc. There cannot be 3 gods (which we agree Christians are NOT saying), etc., etc.

But let me just ask one more question just to help me understand what is going on with the Trinity. You say…“who is to say that God can’t exist as 3 persons.” Let me just swallow hard and go with that with logic for a second. Does that mean there is no compelling reason it has to be 3. It could be 12 or 17 just as easily (no more logical problems with one rather than the other)…it just happens to be the case that God is 3 persons…which we know because God told us, I presume?

I was reading a book about quantum physics that was WAY over my head.:o It spoke about multiple universes and other things that I did not understand. Simply because my level of comprehension is not great enough to fully understand the book does not mean that quantum physics is irrational.

It makes sense that an infinite God would be even more difficult to fully explain with our finite words. Just because we can’t explain the Trinity or the nature of God in a way that everyone understands doesn’t mean that the Trintiy is irrational or false.

AWESOME question!!! :thumbsup::thumbsup::thumbsup::thumbsup:

Can I try? The answer is one word–Community!

Think about it–we’re constantly at it! We’re even doing it right now!

Jesus implied a likeness between the unity of God’s sons when He prayed to the Father in John 17:21-22. The Church teaches us about this in Gaudium et Spes where she directly draws a parallel from the union of the divine Persons and the “…union of the sons of God in truth and love.” This validates the use of human community as a model for the Trinity.

God did not make man as a solitary being, he must relate himself to others, forming one family and dealing with each other in a spirit of brotherhood. Indeed, we are all destined to the same end: God Himself as everyone has been created in the likeness of God who

“…made from one every nation of men who live on all the face of the earth.”

Gaudium et Spes directly draws a parallel from the union of the divine Persons and the “…union of the sons of God in truth and love.” Can you see how this uses human community itself as a model to show us the Trinity and thus offers a challenge to us for a journey into God?

Ultimately, the mystery and doctrine of the Trinity means that the God who created us, who sustains us, who will judge us and give us eternal life is not a totally transcendent God utterly removed from us, rather He is a God of absolute proximity, communicated in flesh, in history, within our human family. He is a God who is present in the spiritual depths of our being and apex of our unfolding history as the source of enlightenment and community.

The Trinity is the transcendent Archetype of unity-in-love-without-rivalry. This, I propose, is the challenge we are set by God.

:slight_smile: Isn’t He amazing?

What a good explanation.:thumbsup:

Well, then, you are not looking. God as understood by Christians is a kind and loving God who is incapable of lying or deception. Once we die, he becomes a fair judge. The actual point that I was alluding to, however, is a basic concept that many Muslims seem to hold that man can understand God. That God is not complicated or else He would not exist.

Now returning to your first point. I can buy the whole that our language is finite and we are trying to talk about God who is beyond all Being and Knowing. This applies to our most fundamental language about God: One, Good, Being, Truth, etc. The Christian philosophers like to say that the language is “analogous”, and that is fine with me for the moment. But Trinitarian language seems to be doing something other than that?

Ok so far.

So if I understand you – “The Dogma is not simple to comprehend, but it is easy to state and accept as an act of faith” – this just seems to suggest that the doctrine is irrational but you believe it anyway because it is a faith statement about things we can’t comprehend. And, drawing off your very last sentence, that it provides you some grammatical rules about what you can and can’t say, even if it is not clear how they all fit together: e.g., Jesus is God; The Father is God; Jesus is not the Father; God is One.

Last sentence is correct. The doctrine is not irrational at all. It is just impossible for humans to understand fully.

But why would you want to say those things (at least in such a way that you really mean them) to start with? Why couldn’t Christians say the language about Father and Son was a metaphor…like God sitting on a throne (which both the Bible and Qur’an says, but neither Christians nor Muslims take it literally for the most part…it is poetic or mythic language). And then you avoid the whole confused mess. Right?

Because the Trinitarian language is not metaphorical, it is real and accurate. What you want us to say is that the heretical Teachings of Muhammed are acceptable to us. They are not. Muhammed taught that Jesus is not God. He is wrong. Muhammed taught that Jesus did not die on the Cross. He was wrong there, too.

FF,

That was very thoughtful and interesting. Thank you for your response. It was very helpful.

That the human community is an image of God is a very powerful idea (we have a similar idea with tawhid, the ummah, etc., but that isn’t the topic so…): the fundamental idea of Peace as the Truth of God and of who we are.

Obviously I am still going to have questions (none of which are meant to undermine how much I liked your post…I spent a lot of the evening mulling it over).

Let me begin with the idea you gave of the Trinity as Archetype of Community. I started with the presupposition at the beginning of this thread that Christians were monotheists, i.e., they believe God is One. I just want to make sure I have that right. There is a difference, in my mind at least, between saying God is One and saying God is a unity or God is Unity. Unity, to me, suggests separate beings (persons?) who are being united, or even are united. It is an image of the One and is dependent upon the One. I am nitpicking at your language, when you talked about the “union of divine persons”, but do Christians understand God to be One, or a Unity (or are they just going to deny that there is a difference…which would be possible I suppose, but not very satisfying or reassuring to Muslims, or Jews either in all likelihood)?

I am going to assume that Christians do mean that God is One and that the language of “union” with respect to God was simply used loosely. In that case, can we understand Trinity as a master-metaphor (maybe metaphor is not a strong enough word for Christians, I am open to other suggestions) for the way in which the human community has its basis in God?

And I still feel the need to ask what I assume is a somewhat silly question from a Christian standpoint: why three? It seems random. Is this a case of “that’s just the way it is”. Is there a reason it is three in particular? If it is a master-metaphor of how community finds its root in God, wouldn’t more be better (assuming you wanted to go that route at all)?

thanks again.

eh… I guess that is why I accept it. :blush:

Maybe its a bit like water. It exists as ice, water and vapor, but in essence the three are all the same substance. Still, it is helpful to talk about the three as distinct things, and how they relate to each other.

I think the idea that God is simple (not made up of parts) is held in common by Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

The doctrine is not irrational at all. It is just impossible for humans to understand fully.

Because the Trinitarian language is not metaphorical, it is real and accurate.

Both you and Deb objected to the use of “irrational” so clearly that isn’t the right word. But it seems to me that you are definitely saying there is something different between saying that God the Good is beyond comprehension/mysterious, or God the One is beyond comprehension/mysterious, and saying that God the Trinity is beyond comprehension/mysterious. In the first two cases the language is meaningful, is coherent in itself and in relationship to each other, but we know because we are finite, that we cannot contain God. God is fundamentally beyond Being and Knowing. With the Trinity on the other hand, the language itself, from the very first, does not cohere. 3=1 (or something…I gave the 4 propositions in the previous post, for instance, which are just flat out contradictory). That seems to be a different kind of mystery than what is normally being invoked.

Or to put it slightly differently, there is a different kind of act of faith going on when one says God is One than when one says God is Trinity. You seem to be saying that the latter does not have a relation to us as thinking beings, where the first does. That is what it seems to me you are saying. Maybe?

Since God is infinite and we are finite with finite minds we can never fully comprehend or understand God. That does not mean we can have no understanding, but not complete understanding. We can know something about God.

We can start with the statement, God exists. Muslims and Christians agree that God exists. God is existance. He reveals Himself as existance to the Jews. "I am that I am."
Man using his intellect alone can figure out that God exists. The Greeks did this. Beyond that if we are to know anything more about God it is through revelation. He reveals Himself to us and things about Himself. These things we call the infiinte perfections of God. God is love. God is life. God is truth. All of the perfections of God are found in each of them.

We know something about love. Love can not exist by itself or alone. There is a lover and the object of love, the beloved. So we have the lover, the beloved and the love, a trinity, so to speak. Love gives love to love. Love gives itself. If love does not give itself it is not love. The same is true of life. God is the giver of life. He gives life to Himself eternally.

In Christian theology we say God is three persons with one nature. The three persons are identical in nature, or one. They share the same nature. In order to understand this you must first make a distinction between person and nature. There is a difference between who you are and what you are. You are a human person, because you have human nature. You breathe, eat, walk, talk, see, hear, laugh, cry, pray, love, etc. You can do these things in your nature. A bird has bird nature and can fly. You can not fly.

I can do in general the same things you do, because I also have human nature. We share human nature, but we are not the same person.

My nature makes me what I am. That is not who I am. There is a difference between what I am and who I am.

God is infinite being. Divine nature is infinite. My nature is finite, or limited. You and I are not the same. We look different and are different in many ways. We have different levels of intelligence, height, faces, abilities, interests, etc. If we were two persons and were infinite, we would be identical. If one of us had something the other lacked the one lacking would not be infinite. But if we both were infinite we would be the same, identical in nature.

As love can not exist by itself, without an object of love, so knowledge can not exist alone. There is the knower and the known. God knows Himself. Another way of sayng this is God has an idea of Himself. He sees Himself. You could even say that He has an image of Himself. Since God is infinite this image or knowledge of Himself must also be infinite, lacking nothing that is God, or the image or idea that is known would not be complete knowledge.

This is very difficult to comprehend, and even more difficult to express verbally.

I am also known by God. God knows me. In fact my identity, who I am comes from God who made me. I am a created being, a creature, known by the being who made me. The most fundamental essence of who I am comes from God, who made me, knows me and loves me. I am the object of divine love, and so are you.

But God is uncreated Being. He is eternal. He knows and loves Himself in three infinite divine persons. Another way of saying that is God is three whos and one what. Infinity pours Infinity into Infinity. God is not stagnant, bottled up within Himself. He reveals Himself to us in Three Persons. This happened first at Jesus’s baptism by John in the Jordan.

But you ask how the doctrine helps us. The answer has to do with what God is doing with us, why He made us, what we are becoming.

God took on our nature. He could be with us, teach us, talk with us and tell us about Himself. We are made for Him. He shares our nature. He will raise us to share His. So Saint Peter writes that we will participate in divine nature.

You are a Muslim and these things are not part of your faith. As with all revelation of things we can not figure out on our own, we will either accept them in faith and have knowledge of them or reject them. In this case is it a matter of knowing why we exist.

Thank you gracious brother! I am so glad you enjoyed my post. I am familiar with the concept of the umma and have spend a good deal of time studying Islam. I see many parallels in these ideas which lead me to believe that God calls to all His children.

OK this is a great question! :thumbsup: Firstly I will have to offer an apology for the inadequacy of my answers. The Trinity for us is the supreme truth about God and the focus of theology. It could never be adequate to explain such a wonderful thing in such a small way, but perhaps, since you are evidently a). Very intelligent and b). Interested, I may be able to unlock the door enough for you to peek through the crack?

This question was a question the first Christians had to consider in light of what they had witnessed-- why and how can three go into one?

Their primary concerns were about a joyous proclamation of the Good News (Greek= κήρυγμα); bearing witness to Christ. and their first statements of faith were Christological and based on Scripture: “Jesus is the Christ” (Cf. Acts 2:36; 10:36; Col 2:6.), “Jesus is Lord” ( Cf. 1 Cor 12:3; Rom 10:9; cf. Acts 2:36; Phil 2:11), and “Jesus is the Son of God” ( Cf. Acts 9:20; 13:33; Rom 1:4; Heb 4:14). Latent in this Christological profession was a Trinitarian faith (Cf. Acts 2:33. The Trinity was also implied in the early κήρυγμα; cf. Acts 2:14-39; 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 5:29-32; 10:34-43; 13:16-41) and thus it was natural that the latter evolved from the former; their early professions of faith resulted from the merging of the dual emanation of the Christological and the Trinitarian, both based on the New Testament.

Christians do not acclaim three gods, we wholeheartedly affirm with Israel and Islam, The LORD our God, the LORD is one." (Deuternomy 6:4). The point of departure in developing an understanding of this matter must be the Holy Scriptures. It is easy to highlight how much the Scriptures say about the Trinity, but this is not as clearly seen if one is unaware of the Scripture’s background in Jewish theology.

The Sacred Scriptures clearly reveal God in a loving relationship with His people. Scripture throws light on the way in which we understand the Trinity. The Old Testament elucidates God the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit, and this becomes the vocabulary of the New Testament. By the middle of the second century, however, most Christians had been brought up as pagans and not Jews. The Good News had been presented to them using concepts drawn from Greek philosophy; the Stoic, the Aristotelian and the Platonic traditions were all in use throughout the Christian world, although the Platonic was most popular among Christian thinkers of the time, recognising as it did the importance of immortal spirits. Some of the ideas of Platonism (like the doctrine of reincarnation for example) were not consistent with Christianity however. At the same time, there was a great deal of Christian thought taking place and groups emerged with a variety of different opinions and beliefs. We can learn to have sympathy with the modern Islamic perspective in studying this period of Christian history as (naturally it would seem) some Christians had considerable difficulty in reconciling the fact of their belief in One God with a divine Christ.

Attempts to resolve this dilemma included Monarchianism which accepted the true divinity of Christ, but admitted to only one person in God, teaching that the Father had become man and suffered in Jesus Christ. Subordinationalist Monarchianism taught that Christ was only divine in some secondary sense and only the Father was fully divine. The shadowy figure Praxeas whom Tertullian refers to in his polemic Adversus Praxeam, taught that the Father and the Son were one identical person; it was the Father who entered the Virgin’s womb, becoming His own son, and it was the Father who was crucified, died and was resurrected. These ideas are all Modalistic. They teach that God was one and the persons of the Trinity; Father, Son and Spirit, were merely expressions human beings attached to the different ways we experience the one God. To any clear thinking person, this cannot be the case and so Christian continued to try and understand how Christ Jesus could be God and yet God could be one.

Perhaps the horror that the early orthodox Christian Bishops felt about Modalism can go some way to explaining why they were not particularly wary of accounts of the Christian faith that over-emphasised the distinctions between Father, Son and Spirit. We can refer to these developments as Economic Trinitarianism; the attempt to demonstrate that the Trinity explicitly revealed in the economy of salvation are other than the Father, but at the same time inseparably one with Him in His eternal being.

What is eminently clear from all this is how devout Christians in the early Church were concerned with making their faith comprehensible to the world in which they lived. Theology itself came into being to address the questions that arose from individual interpretations of these professions of faith. In an attempt to proclaim the orthodox belief of the Church, the first ecumenical council of the Christian Church was called at Nicea in 325 by the emperor Constantine. It was called to discern the truth about Jesus- was he God or a creature? Did they just make up an answer? Absolutely not! The Council works with the bedrock of faith- Scripture, the recorded word of the apostles and the ipsissime verba of Jesus Christ Himself, and the Apostolic Tradition. In the workings of the great Councils we also discern the action of the Holy Spirit, the paraclete who was sent to keep the deposit of faith error free until the Parousia.
Athanasius of Alexandria (293-373) was by no means the most extreme of the members of the Nicene group which opposed Arius, but he was the great defender of the decision at Nicaea. His position represents the classic exposition if the Nicene standpoint: Athanasius answers Arius’ suggestion that ‘there was when He was not’ by explaining how God can never be without His Word, any more than the light can cease to shine or the river source to flow. Hence the Son must exist eternally alongside the Father.

The explanation of this is that His generation is an eternal process; “just as the Father is always good by nature, so He is by nature always generative”. It is entirely correct to call Him the Father’s eternal offspring, for the Father’s being was never incomplete, needing an essential feature to be added to it; nor is the Son’s generation like a man’s from his parent, involving His coming into existence after the Father. Rather He is God’s offspring, and since God is eternal and He belongs to God as Son, He exists from all eternity. It is characteristic of men, because of the imperfection of their nature, to beget in time; but God’s offspring is eternal, His nature always being perfect. The key issue for Athanasius is salvation. God must be made man in Jesus so that we might become God. The λόγος who appeared in Jesus must therefore be eternal. Only if the Father and the Son are co-eternal can Jesus, in whom the λόγος is present, give us eternal life. Athanasius has the Son as the Father’s image; He is the stream and the Father the source, He the brightness and the Father the light. Thus because of the Son’s complete likeness to the Father, because of His belonging to the Father’s substance; anyone who has seen Christ sees the Father. We can now see how Athanasius redirects theology to the unity of God, because it is a very short step from this position to oneness (ένότης), even identity (ταύτότης), of being. Athanasius fully embraces this and his favourite analogy for the Son’s divinity is that the Father’s divinity is the light and the Son is its brightness. The Father and the Son are distinguishable as two, yet are one and the same substance, they:

“…are one in the intimate union of Their nature and the identity of Their Godhead…Thus they are one, and Their Godhead is one, so that whatever is predicated of the Son is predicated of the Father.”

Athanasius’s thought then holds two dimensions in tension together; the unique indivisible Monad of the Godhead and the Scriptural revelation which demands a real duality:

“The Son as offspring is other than the Father, He is identical with Him as God.”

Saint Augustine’s Trinitarian theology is well known for its analogies. He points out that in every process of perception there are three distinct elements: the external object, the mind’s sensible representation of the object and the act of focusing the mind. When the external object is removed, we rise to an even higher Trinitarian level, superior to the first because the process now occurs entirely within the mind and therefore all the functions are of the same substance, that is the memory impression, the internal memory image and the focusing of the will. He first used the idea of ‘Lover, Beloved and Love’ to describe the Trinity but was aware of the weakness of his own analogy: what happens if the lover and the loved are the same? Nevertheless, he maintains that we should be able to find something out about the Trinity from looking at ourselves (since we are made in the image of God).

His analogies reflect an intensely experiential pattern; many are rather tenuous examples of how three things may also be one, in some sense. In Confessions (and only in Confessions) he uses the analogy of human oneness and ‘Being, Knowing and Willing’. The trouble with this analogy is that being is more primary, to know and to will presuppose existence. Therefore this cannot be a true analogy either. In books 9 and 10 of Confessions, he formulates the much more celebrated analogy of ‘Memory, Understanding and Will’. I think that this analogy works much better: all three are different actions; one is not the ‘source’ of the others. We do not have three lives, but one. We do not have three minds, but one, thus we can say we are not three substances, but one.

Memory, understanding and will are equal as each is contained by each and each contains all three, not separately, but implied by each. In his work De Trinitate, he elaborates this one analogy in three stages which results in these trinities: the mind, its knowledge of itself and its love for itself, memory-- the mind’s latent knowledge of itself, understanding and love of itself, and finally: the mind as remembering, knowing and loving God, which Augustine regards as the most satisfactory as it is only when the mind is focused on God with all its powers of remembering, understanding and loving that the image it bears of God can be fully restored.

Are you sure you’re not confusing Christians with Jews?

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