Trinity... but why not 2-inity, 5-inity, 7-inity?


#1

Why are there Three Persons in the Holy Trinity?

I mean, why three? Why not a Two-inity, or a Septinity?

Is there some rational reason why the number is three?


#2

That’s all that scripture reveals. Father, Son and Spirit.


#3

Ok, that’s sorta the answer that doesn’t work, apologetically speaking. People who don’t accept the Bible as authoritative aren’t likely to buy that.

I need an explaination that will work without recourse to Scripture.


#4

There are three because that’s how many there actually are…If there were seven, we would have had 7 persons revealed to us.
I don’t see how you can get away from the scriptures on this subject, because that is where our knowledge comes from.
I mean, it’s kind of like trying to explain the Americal Revolution to someone who doesn’t believe in history…
I know, this is no help, but I think that we just have to accept that Christian faith is dependent upon the Bible & sacred tradition for our understanding…At some point, we have to step out & just trust that, yes, this is what we have been told…


#5

[quote=bengeorge]Why are there Three Persons in the Holy Trinity?

I mean, why three? Why not a Two-inity, or a Septinity?

Is there some rational reason why the number is three?
[/quote]

Your profile has you down as a Catholic so I don’t understand your question. You would already know the answer. As the other posters have said there are three because that is what scripture revealed to us. Even Protestants believe in the Trinity so who are the people you are debating this with?


#6

Read a synthesis of St. Thomas Aquinas’ explaination of the Holy Trinity. Frank Sheed has two books on this Theology and Sanity and Theology for Beginners. You will be amazed. There’s a layman’s version of the Summa called My Way of Life by the Confraternity of the Precious Blood. All of these books are available at your friendly local Catholic Bookstore.

in Xt


#7

[quote=bengeorge]I need an explanation that will work without recourse to Scripture.
[/quote]

The doctrine of the Trinity, i.e., that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are all God, is a doctrine based upon what is seen in Scripture. In other words, we see the Three in the Bible, but they are all the One, and so we say that they are the Trinity.

If someone does not accept the Bible as authoritative, you cannot prove that the Trinity is real, but you can still tell him/her that the Trinity is treated by the text as being real. Of course, then you have to do a really long Bible study, because the doctrine is a consolidation of a general representation, rather than the derivation of any specific verse.


#8

[quote=AquinasXVI]Read a synthesis of St. Thomas Aquinas’ explaination of the Holy Trinity. Frank Sheed has two books on this Theology and Sanity and Theology for Beginners. You will be amazed. There’s a layman’s version of the Summa called My Way of Life by the Confraternity of the Precious Blood. All of these books are available at your friendly local Catholic Bookstore.

in Xt
[/quote]

If I remember correctly, the explanation is that the Father’s understanding of Himself is so complete and so perfect that it exists as another Person, the Word, the Son. And the love between the Father and the Son is so complete and so perfect that it exists as another Person, the Holy Spirit.

Pershaps somebody can confirm or correct my memory.


#9

[quote=VociMike]If I remember correctly, the explanation is that the Father’s understanding of Himself is so complete and so perfect that it exists as another Person, the Word, the Son. And the love between the Father and the Son is so complete and so perfect that it exists as another Person, the Holy Spirit.

Pershaps somebody can confirm or correct my memory.
[/quote]

I’ve checked Theology For Beginners (I don’t have the other book) and there are 16 pages on this topic. I found something like you mentioned although I’m not sure if this is what you were referring to:

“He eternally is, in the plenitude of life and power. Merely by being, he knows himself with that limitless intensity of knowledge which necessarily produces the idea, the Son. Nor must Father and Son wait while their love grows to the point where it can utter itself in a third person. Merely by being, they love with the fullness of loving-power; merely by loving thus intensely they utter their love: the Holy Spirit is as inevitable as Father and Son.”


#10

But we must remember…it is not the quantity or number “3”…but a transcendental 3. That is…it is not, conceptually, the integer “3”…but rather…it is infinity taken once then again and then again because of the relative oppositions distinguishing the 3 persons.


#11

From the Summa Theologica:

"Whether the numeral terms denote anything real in God?

Objection 1. It would seem that the numeral terms denote something real in God. For the divine unity is the divine essence. But every number is unity repeated. Therefore every numeral term in God signifies the essence; and therefore it denotes something real in God.

Objection 2. Further, whatever is said of God and of creatures, belongs to God in a more eminent manner than to creatures. But the numeral terms denote something real in creatures; therefore much more so in God.

Objection 3. Further, if the numeral terms do not denote anything real in God, and are introduced simply in a negative and removing sense, as plurality is employed to remove unity, and unity to remove plurality; it follows that a vicious circle results, confusing the mind and obscuring the truth; and this ought not to be. Therefore it must be said that the numeral terms denote something real in God.

On the contrary, Hilary says (De Trin. iv): “If we admit companionship”–that is, plurality–“we exclude the idea of oneness and of solitude;” and Ambrose says (De Fide i): “When we say one God, unity excludes plurality of gods, and does not imply quantity in God.” Hence we see that these terms are applied to God in order to remove something; and not to denote anything positive.

I answer that, The Master (Sent. i, D, 24) considers that the numeral terms do not denote anything positive in God, but have only a negative meaning. Others, however, assert the contrary.

In order to resolve this point, we may observe that all plurality is a consequence of division. Now division is twofold; one is material, and is division of the continuous; from this results number, which is a species of quantity. Number in this sense is found only in material things which have quantity. The other kind of division is called formal, and is effected by opposite or diverse forms; and this kind of division results in a multitude, which does not belong to a genus, but is transcendental in the sense in which being is divided by one and by many. This kind of multitude is found only in immaterial things.

Some, considering only that multitude which is a species of discrete quantity, and seeing that such kind of quantity has no place in God, asserted that the numeral terms do not denote anything real in God, but remove something from Him. Others, considering the same kind of multitude, said that as knowledge exists in God according to the strict sense of the word, but not in the sense of its genus (as in God there is no such thing as a quality), so number exists in God in the proper sense of number, but not in the sense of its genus, which is quantity.

But we say that numeral terms predicated of God are not derived from number, a species of quantity, for in that sense they could bear only a metaphorical sense in God, like other corporeal properties, such as length, breadth, and the like; but that they are taken from multitude in a transcendent sense. Now multitude so understood has relation to the many of which it is predicated, as “one” convertible with “being” is related to being; which kind of oneness does not add anything to being, except a negation of division, as we saw when treating of the divine unity (11, 1); for “one” signifies undivided being. So, of whatever we say “one,” we imply its undivided reality: thus, for instance, “one” applied to man signifies the undivided nature or substance of a man. In the same way, when we speak of many things, multitude in this latter sense points to those things as being each undivided in itself.

But number, if taken as a species of quantity, denotes an accident added to being; as also does “one” which is the principle of that number. Therefore the numeral terms in God signify the things of which they are said, and beyond this they add negation only, as stated (Sent. i, D, 24); in which respect the Master was right (Sent. i, D, 24). So when we say, the essence is one, the term “one” signifies the essence undivided; and when we say the person is one, it signifies the person undivided; and when we say the persons are many, we signify those persons, and their individual undividedness; for it is of the very nature of multitude that it should be composed of units."


#12

"Reply to Objection 1. *One, as it is a transcendental, is wider and more general than substance and relation. And so likewise is multitude; hence in God it may mean both substance and relation, according to the context. Still, the very signification of such names adds a negation of division, beyond substance and relation; as was explained above. *

Reply to Objection 2. Multitude, which denotes something real in creatures, is a species of quantity, and cannot be used when speaking of God: unlike transcendental multitude, which adds only indivision to those of which it is predicated. Such a kind of multitude is applicable to God.

Reply to Objection 3. “One” does not exclude multitude, but division, which logically precedes one or multitude. Multitude does not remove unity, but division from each of the individuals which compose the multitude. This was explained when we treated of the divine unity (11, 2). It must be observed, nevertheless, that the opposite arguments do not sufficiently prove the point advanced. Although the idea of solitude is excluded by plurality, and the plurality of gods by unity, it does not follow that these terms express this signification alone. For blackness is excluded by whiteness; nevertheless, the term whiteness does not signify the mere exclusion of blackness."


#13

To the confused ones:

There are alot of people who wouldn’t buy the Scripture-says-so argument, among them:

Hindus
Muslims
Buddhists
Pagan-New-Agey-types
Atheists
And many many more.


#14

[quote=bengeorge]To the confused ones:

There are alot of people who wouldn’t buy the Scripture-says-so argument, among them:

Hindus
Muslims
Buddhists
Pagan-New-Agey-types
Atheists
And many many more.
[/quote]

So?

The Trinity is a (if not the) mystery of the faith. It cannot be proven except by recourse to divine revelation, which includes both Scripture and Tradition.

That being said, there is nothing understandable about the doctrine of the Trinity that contradicts reasons. IOW, the question isn’t why only three Divine Persons instead of another number? The question is: Three Divine Persons have been revealed; what is your excuse for not believing?

– Mark L. Chance.


#15

As I understand things…
There are three divine Persons because God is rational spirit with divine perfection. The characteristics of a rational spirit are intellect and will. Because of the divine perfection of his intellect and will, God’s knowledge of himself (the Son) and love of the same (the Holy Spirit) also have divine Personhood.


#16

If I’m not mistaken the the question he is asking is notHow is it that we know that the Trinity is true, that there are three divine persons?” but rather a different question namely, “Why is it the case that God is a Trinity, that there are three divine persons?”

The answer to the second question is not provided by official Church teaching. I believe Catholic tradition generally tends to say that the Trinity is a mystery so that we are unable especially in this life to be able to know why or how it is that God is a Trinity versus a 2-inity, 5-inity, 7-inity, etc. Remeber this is distinct from knowing that God is a Trinity.

However, some theologians have attempted to provide some explanations. But they seem to involve a lot of the theological equivalent to the mathematical practice of “hand waving” … i.e. making leaps in logic without a clear foundation.

As a final note, I am not convinced that the Church has infallibly defined that there exist three and only three divine persons in the Godhead. The Church has infallibly defined that there are the three – but I don’t see anything in the definitions that would exclude the possibility that there are not more. After all, Judaism is like Christianity, a revealed religion and yet to the Jews, only the existence of one divine person was revealed but this was consistent with the revelation in Christianity that there are three. But any revelation of other divine persons would have to come after the Second Coming of Christ because the Church teaches that there will be no new revelation until that glorious day which will rival and even surpass the divine work of creation.

To say that I am not convinced about what the infallible definitions actually define, is not to say that I entertain seriously anything other than the Trinity.


#17

I don’t think you are really understanding his question.

He was not having doubts (as far as I can tell).

He was just doing what any good philosopher or theologian would do which is not to doubt what God has revealed to be true but to explore why it is true without doubting that it is true. See the difference?

Let me give you a more mundane example that brings this to light.

I may have no doubts whatsoever at all that the earth is round. But I can still ask the question, “Why is the earth round? Why did God make it that way?”

Likewise, I may have no doubts whatsoever that God is a Trinity, that there are three divine persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But I can still ask the question, “Why is God constituted in the divine essence as a triune being? What is it about God that makes Him triune instead of biune, etc?” And theologians – including Saints! – have attempted to try to answer this very question without in any way doubting anything at all or questioning in any way at all the truth of the Trinity. An example would be St Anselm … there are many others. The question here is not so much about proving that the Trinity is true – Catholic tradition generally holds that that is impossible at least on earth. The question rather is about having already accepted by faith that the Trinity is true, marveling at this supreme wonder and mystery of our faith and trying to gain a glimpse at how it is that, why it is that God is constituted as a Trinity instead of something else.


#18

In a sense, it is not really our job to explain why God’s nature is as it is. Our job is only to try to understand as best we can what has been revealed.

To undertake such an understanding, some in-depth study of works at least as intellectually rigorous as Frank Sheed’s “Theology for Beginners” or “Theology and Sanity” is really required. It requires a more sustained effort than can be conveyed in a simple apologetical discourse.

The trouble is, that atheists, pagans, new-agers, Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists, are not prone or likely to engage in the requisite study, and some in fact may be philosophically opposed in principle to trying to understand the divine nature through reason.


#19

If you want to read St Anselm’s “proof” of the Trinity which explains not the “why” but rather “how it must be true” and relies solely on reason and without any recourse to scripture or tradition, start here:

ccel.org/ccel/anselm/basic_works.v.i.html

and go through all the pages – it’s long. Here is an excerpt from around the point where he starts to discuss, having already “proved” that there are at least three divine persons, how it must be the case that there are exactly these three and not nine. This is similar to the question asked in this thread.

[quote=Saint Anselm of Canterbury, Doctor of the Church]Yet there are not three [Fathers, three Sons, three Spirits], but one Father and one Son and one Spirit.

AND here I see a question arises. For, if the Father is intelligence and love as well as memory, and the Son is memory and love as well as intelligence, and the Spirit is no less memory and intelligence than love; how is it that the Father is not a Son and a Spirit of some being? and why is not the Son the Father and the Spirit of some being? and why is not this Spirit the Father of some being, and the Son of some being? For it was understood, that the Father was memory, the Son intelligence, and the Spirit love.

But this question is easily answered, if we consider the truths already disclosed in our discussion. For the Father, even though he is intelligence and love, is not for that reason the Son or the Spirit of any being; since he is not intelligence, begotten of any, or love, proceeding from any, but whatever he is, he is only the begetter, and is he from whom the other proceeds.

The Son also, even though by his own power he remembers and loves, is not, for that reason, the Father or the Spirit of any; since he is not memory as begetter, or love as proceeding from another after the likeness of his Spirit, but whatever being he has he is only begotten and is he from whom the Spirit proceeds.

The Spirit, too, is not necessarily Father or Son, because his own memory and intelligence are sufficient to him; since he is not memory as begetter, or intelligence as begotten, but he alone, whatever he is, proceeds or emanates.

What, then, forbids the conclusion that in the supreme Being there is only one Father, one Son, one Spirit, and not three Fathers or Sons or Spirits?
[/quote]

To discover the answer to that question, you have to read the whole thing! :smiley:


#20

[quote=tuopaolo]If you want to read St Anselm’s “proof” of the Trinity which explains not the “why” but rather “how it must be true” and relies solely on reason and without any recourse to scripture or tradition, start here:

ccel.org/ccel/anselm/basic_works.v.i.html

and go through all the pages – it’s long. Here is an excerpt from around the point where he starts to discuss, having already “proved” that there are at least three divine persons, how it must be the case that there are exactly these three and not nine. This is similar to the question asked in this thread.

To discover the answer to that question, you have to read the whole thing! :smiley:
[/quote]

You are right. Its extremely long and heavy going. I’ll have to print it out to read more carefully. I don’t understand why he even brings up the concept for argument against 2 fathers, 2 sons and 2 spirits.
The Trinity is the Trinity and I see no need to try to prove this outside scripture.

I was a bit concerned in the opening part of the paper when he is saying that it is certain of his brethern urging him to write the paper on the basis:

QUOTE

It is in accordance with their wish, rather than with my ability, that they have prescribed such a form for the writing of this meditation; in order that nothing in Scripture should be urged on the authority of Scripture itself, but that whatever the conclusion of independent investigation should declare to be true, should, in an unadorned style, with common proofs and with a simple argument, be briefly enforced by the cogency of reason, and plainly expounded in the light of truth.

UNQUOTE

That implies to me at least that his brethern and possibly he himself are saying that we should not accept anything that scripture says unless external proofs can be given and I would reject such a position.


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