What is the best analogy for the Trinity?


I’ve heard examples like:

• A father, mother and son are one family. They are 3 different persons but are one family, not three, just like how God is 3 different persons and is one God
• A man can be a husband, father, and son at the same time. But he is one man, not three.
• Water has three states: water, ice, and vapour. They are three different states, but they’re all still water

And yes I know they’re imperfect analogies, but is there a “best” analogy for the Trinity?


Probably not. That mystery is not only unable to be exhaustible intellectually, but is also ineffable and it is very hard to explain this paradoxical division and unity. It makes my brain hurt.


I think that analogies only postpone the inevitable: The Trinity is beyond our capability to understand. And there is a danger of imagining the analogy to the point that it becomes a habit of thought - and this, while not quite an idol, is a barrier or at least a hindrance to the very real invitation God has given us to seek and hold tight to the supernatural, infused faith by which we “see” Him with eyes of faith - in a “luminous obscurity” even in the eyes of faith - which is to become, in heaven, (something like) seeing, in the Beatific Vision.

The divine Presence can become sensed in a kind clarity here and now, in the gift of infused contemplation, in which we can grow in understanding as He intends - not by man-made analogies, which only reduce the truth, but in the clarity of spiritual embrace.


St Patrick and the clover leaf


The Father looks into a mirror and sees his reflection - The Son, the love and empathy between the two is of them is The Holy Ghost.


It cannot be made into a perfect analogy as some of the analogies are considered heresy.

The best way is just to tell that it is beyond our comprehension for example if we think of the HT as the sun gives out light and heat it means that the son and HS are merely creations of the father which is wrong


Dear Catholics. The Church teaches that the Trinity is a mystery. A mystery cannot be made into an analogy or, by definition, explained in any other way.


What does that mean?


Your misunderstanding of government structure is profound. Each “branch” of government is not a full government.


@Zynxensar , I think that your analogy is the best one .


Where did you get this idea?


St Patrick describes the Trinity using a clover plant


I don’t think there is a best analogy for the Trinity. That’s not to say they can’t sometimes be helpful, but they all get it wrong in some respect or another, and I don’t think one is closer than another.

This always gives me a laugh:


Polytheism, modalism, and modalism respectively.


But correct. Analogies for the Trinity will always end up confessing some sort of heresy because analogies are necessarily limited and you’re trying to express the Infinite.

This is where one finds their teaching value: to teach what God is not. This is an important step when teaching about the Trinity, to learn the heresies.


First, please understand that the Trinity is itself an analogy. It is an anthropomorphic description of God’s three masculine hypostases. Assuming you’re not familiar with this, you can either invest time into studying and contemplating this, which may or may not reveal and confirm the Truth of the Trinity to you, or simply accept it as given. In any case, it is possible in principle to understand the Trinity, so in that sense it should not be labeled an “inaccessible mystery”, as some do.

Having said that, on to your question. You’re asking for an analogy for an analogy, and you’ve offered three examples. The first is by far the least adequate, because the Trinity is not a collection within which three persons relate to each other. The second is much better, because it makes it clear that there is only one God, and compares His hypostases to roles. This isn’t perfect, but it’s acceptable (in my opinion) as an easy-to-understand analogy. The third is alright because it makes it clear that God’s substance is the same in all three persons, but unfortunately it is impersonal and suggests that God goes through transitions in order to become one or another of the Persons – which is not accurate.

Want another one? Think of God’s substance as Light. The Father is then the sun, the Son is a reflected image of that sun in e.g. a mirror, and the Holy Spirit is a ray of light coming from the Sun, reflecting off the mirror, and then warming something. Personally I like this one because it too retains the notion of substance, makes it clear that the Son is an image of the Father, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the son, and that the Holy Spirit ultimately works a transformation, analogous to the role of light in photosynthesis. But this one too is not perfect, because it too is not personal, and does not elucidate the begetting of the Son. But perhaps it helps.

Caught off guard -- I couldn't explain the Trinity

The OP’s last two analogies are also completely unacceptable because while they rightly express the singularity of substance (“neither…dividing the substance”), they fail miserably with the distinction of the Persons ("[nor] confounding the Persons"). This is the heresy of Modalism or Sabellianism.

The problem here is that the sun is NOT light. The sun is primarily hydrogen, which is matter, while the light is produced by the sun and is energy. So the analogy of filiation fails right there, and effectively confesses Arianism. The substances are not the same (homoousios), even if they are similar, or like (homoiousios).

The image in the mirror is a tad better, but it also fails because the image in the mirror does not share the same substance as the principle itself, and so, as I tried to explain in another thread, is inadequate. It may be an image of the same thing, but is not the very thing itself (the thing in the mirror does not contain hydrogen and so is not the same substance). It is an idea of the sun, so to speak, but does not contain the power or substance of the sun. It’s a close approximation though; the only thing that makes the image of the sun Inadequate is that the mirror is inherently finite. However, as good as this analogy is, it fails with the spiration part, because if the light is the analogue of the Spirit, then we have a variation of Arianism, because the light is not the same substance as the sun, thereby shifting the heresy of a created being (e.g. the sun creates the light, but is not itself light) from the Son to the Holy Spirit.


Ah, the heresy of partialism, or the Voltron Heresy.

No, there wasn’t a formal heresy called partialism, but it is a dogma of the faith that God is simple. Therefore, to deny it is indeed a heresy, and this is what the “shamrock” analogy does.


The moral of the story is that there are no good analogies for the Trinity!


Marriage is the “primordial sacrament” of the inner life of God.
One loving the other loving the other, the love is a third reality.
Married couples speak about “our love”.

Truly, 1+1=3 in God’s economy.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.