Triple Threat

I’m sorry for always posting rather simple questions that most Catholics already know the answer to, but I lack the knowledge and experience when it comes to matters of your faith. Please correct me if I happen to misperceive any information, and do not be offended if I have made a mistake in interpreting your theology.

Explain to me how “The Trinity” is not polytheistic. I came across this in a discussion with a German Muslim when we were discussing Isa (Jesus). He told me “because G-d is without equal and is omnipotent, how can He be subsetted into three distinct but equally powerful factions?” This stuck with me. Throughout my life, I have educated that G-d is without partner or equal, and that He is the one and only god. To me, the concept of the Trinity is almost Hindu in practice.

My question is “how do Catholics circumnavigate the Trinity towards being monotheistic without lessening the might of G-d?”

Your Jewish Neighbor

Understanding the inner life of an infinite, triune God is beyond us, and what we do know is only because of He has chosen to reveal it to us.

There is only one God.
Within that one God are three persons.
They are not three Gods.

How is that possible? Well, consider that a dog is a being but not a person. A man is a being and one person. God is a being and three persons. From this you can see that while we usually think one being = one person, in fact, the number of persons “in” a person can vary depending on the nature of that being.

We have a human nature. God has a divine nature. The three persons who share the one divine nature are referred to by God Himself as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. All of them are referred to individually or collectively as “He”. The Holy Spirit is not an “It”.

Unlike human fathers who are older than their sons, God the Father did not exist before God the Son or God the Holy Spirit.

The Father is God.
The Son is God.
The Holy Spirit is God.
The Father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit.
The Son is not the Father or the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son.

I’m not Catholic, so take my answer for what it’s worth. The key point (in my opinion) is to remember in attempting to understand the Trinity is that G-d has revealed this mystery to us and that anything we say is an approximation. So if you limit the Trinity to human understanding, it will always sound somewhat poly-theistic. The defining understanding of G-d’s presence with us in the Western Church is the Athenasian creed:

If you read it, you’ll begin to have an understanding on an intellectual level. Accepting it completely though is possibly a gift of Faith from G-d.

You stole my thunder. that is what I was going to say.
St. Patrick used the three leaf clover to explain the Trinity. 3 leafs = 3 persons 1 clover/ 1 God. each leaf is equal to the other but not a different clover. St Patrick explained it better. :smiley:

I would recommend reading the Prima Pars of the Summa Theologica. St Thomas answers almost any question you may have on the Trinity, within of course our limits of understanding. Here is the link.

St. Patrick explains it pretty well… eventually.

God, our great Creator, is without equal. He sent Himself in human form as Jesus so we could experience his divine presence as a human. He sent the Holy Spirit as a connection between earth and heaven.

We cannot comprehend the full greatness of God so He has shown us Himself as Jesus and communicates through the Holy Spirit.

This does not mean He is several gods; this means He is trying to reach us and touch us at our earthly level.

Do you know the story about the elephant and the blind men? There is only one elephant, but it feels like several different things. Similarly, the one God has different aspects — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — which in our limited human understanding appear as separate persons.

Or perhaps it is like the Gödel Escher Bach shadow cube, which casts a shadow of the letter G, E, or B, depending on the orientation of the block.


This is based on figures appearing on the cover of the book, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter:

If you begin with Muslim objection, you will inherit Muslim misunderstanding which is to view these things as “factions”. This is not the Orthodox Christians way. We say that God is one in divinity, three persons. The Muslim makes the same mistake as the other enemies of God who rejected the holy council of Nicea for its saying “one in essence”, which we still say and will always say, and is necessary to understand in order to know the answer to your question. Our father, St. Athanasius the Apostolic (4th century), who was present at that same council and wrote its Creed which is still used by us and by all Christians, wrote on this matter, so I include a large amount here, because what he describes is the common error of the Muslims, to think of things in carnal terms that are unbefitting of God.

Further, let every corporeal reference be banished on this subject; and transcending every imagination of sense, let us, with pure understanding and with mind alone, apprehend the genuine relation of son to father, and the Word’s proper relation towards God, and the unvarying likeness of the radiance towards the light: for as the words ‘Offspring’ and ‘Son’ bear, and are meant to bear, no human sense, but one suitable to God, in like manner when we hear the phrase ‘one in essence,’ let us not fall upon human senses, and imagine partitions and divisions of the Godhead, but as having our thoughts directed to things immaterial, let us preserve undivided the oneness of nature and the identity of light; for this is proper to a son as regards a father, and in this is shewn that God is truly Father of the Word. Here again, the illustration of light and its radiance is in point. Who will presume to say that the radiance is unlike and foreign to the sun? rather who, thus considering the radiance relatively to the sun, and the identity of the light, would not say with confidence, ‘Truly the light and the radiance are one, and the one is manifested in the other, and the radiance is in the sun, so that whoso sees this, sees that also?’ but such a oneness and natural property, what should it be named by those who believe and see aright, but Offspring one in essence? and God’s Offspring what should we fittingly and suitably consider, but Word, and Wisdom, and Power? which it were a sin to say was foreign to the Father, or a crime even to imagine as other than with Him everlastingly. For by this Offspring the Father made all things, and extended His Providence unto all things; by Him He exercises His love to man, and thus He and the Father are one, as has been said; unless indeed these perverse men make a fresh attempt, and say that the essence of the Word is not the same as the Light which is in Him from the Father, as if the Light in the Son were one with the Father, but He Himself foreign in essence as being a creature. Yet this is simply the belief of Caiaphas and the Samosatene, which the Church cast out, but these now are disguising; and by this they fell from the truth, and were declared to be heretics. For if He partakes in fulness the light from the Father, why is He not rather that which others partake, that there be no medium introduced between Him and the Father? Otherwise, it is no longer clear that all things were generated by the Son, but by Him, of whom He too partakes. And if this is the Word, the Wisdom of the Father, in whom the Father is revealed and known, and frames the world, and without whom the Father doth nothing, evidently He it is who is from the Father: for all things originated partake of Him, as partaking of the Holy Ghost. And being such, He cannot be from nothing, nor a creature at all, but rather a proper Offspring from the Father, as the radiance from light.

This is wisdom of the pure and holy Christian faith. Your Muslim friend thinks that it diminishes God or hurts God’s magesty, but we say that the Incarnation by which GOD came in the flesh of man, from the holy virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, to save us is the expression of the power of God. There is a hymn that we Orthodox Christians sing for the Holy Week (I don’t know if Catholics do), O Monogenis, which says all these things quite well. It was written by our father St. Severus of Antioch. Read it and ask yourself if maybe you do not look at God in the right way to see the answer you are looking for. Are there not places in the bible of the Jews where God is personified in some way? When the Lord allows his back to be seen by Moses in the book of Exodus, does this lessen the glory of the Lord? No, right? Nothing does and nothing can. So any problem of the Trinity is a problem of people’s objection, not of God. Who can tell a person who is bound to not believe it by his religion (like a Muslim or a Jew) that it works like this and this is why you should believe it?

O Monogenis

O only-begotten Son, the eternal and immortal Word of God; who for our salvation did will to be incarnate of the holy Theotokos

Who without change became man and was crucified, the Christ God. Trampled down death by death. One of the Holy Trinity, who is glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit, save us.

Holy God, who being God, for our sake, became man without change.

Holy Mighty, who by weakness showed forth what is greater than power.

Holy Immortal, who was crucified for our sake, and endured death in His flesh, the Eternal and Immortal.

O Holy Trinity, have mercy on us.

Here’s a simple way I put it:

If God comes to Earth then He’s still God. If God gives us His Spirit then He’s still God. So if God wants to live amongst us as a Man, He’s not any less God; He’s simply God with us as a Man. Therefore He’s entirely Man but entirely God also.

I don’t like how St Patrick explains it, or the egg analogy, or the elephant. What they fail to convey is that Jesus is fully God.

The clover fails because each leaf “make up” the clover, but not each leaf ‘is’ the clover. Jesus isn’t 33% God, He’s 100% God. He’s God come to us as a man, but He’s still eternally in Heaven. God is not so bound that He can’t come visit us.

Whoa. Every analogy for the Trinity falls short, but this image I have to think about.

Let’s assume that this image also fails to illustrate the Trinity adequately.

Why? :shrug:

When it comes to Christology, I always find John 1 helpful:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

It reminds me of how Proverbs speaks of Wisdom, for truly Christ is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 24). Proverbs 8:

22“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of old.
23 Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth,
26 before he had made the earth with its fields,
or the first of the dust of the world.
27 When he established the heavens, I was there;
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28 when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
29 when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30 then I was beside him, like a master workman,
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
31 rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the children of man.

Christ was with God and was God. Just as the Holy Spirit was with God and was God in the beginning (Genesis 1:2). The Son and the Spirit are inseparable from God the Father. Everything the Father does, he does with with the Son and the Spirit.

1 John 4:8 tells us that “God is love.” When we think of the Trinity, this declaration is profound. The unity of God is the unity of perfect love. Between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit there is perfect love, and therefore, there can be no “factions” only love.

That image comes from one of my favorite books - while it’s good visual, it ultimately fails in that what you see is dependent on the observer. The trinity exists perfectly without any particular observer so for me, I would say having the trinity reduced to any image will ultimately be unsatisfactory.

I thought of that Ben, but the thought also occurred to me that in a way, God presents Himself to us in various ways (cf. Heb. 1).

Some people are into Jesus but not so much the Spirit. Others have had a powerful experience of Baptism in the Spirit which does not overshadow Jesus but definitely causes them to focus on His movements more than other believers might. And, to be honest, I’m not sure we often relate to the Father as much as we do the Son.

So, maybe God has shown one person of himself more than others at various times.

Finally, is it possible, that the community of God contains a fourth person Who simply hasn’t been revealed yet?

Indeed ! And we should give thanks! As I understand it, we’d be utterly destroyed if we remained in sin in His full presence.

The GEB image is good, and I’m not discounting it much!

As for a fourth member - I’m sure it’s possible though I’m content to be stumped by current revelation.

The shortcoming of the illustrations in my last two posts (elephant and shadow block) is that they suggest that the three divine persons of God are merely different human perceptions or points of view.

I just now consulted the Catechism, and this passage explains:

254 The divine persons are really distinct from one another. “God is one but not solitary.” “Father,” “Son,” “Holy Spirit” are not simply names designating modalities of the divine being, for they are really distinct from one another: “He is not the Father who is the Son, nor is the Son he who is the Father, nor is the Holy Spirit he who is the Father or the Son.” They are distinct from one another in their relations of origin: “It is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds.” The divine Unity is Triune.

Good post.

Can you explain “modalities”?

Modalism? Go back a few posts and find the St. Patrick’s Bad Analogies video - it’s quite good.

Oh boy! I can see I’ve gotten in too deep.

The St. Patrick video was very helpful though. :shamrock2:

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