On The Trinity and God’s Unity

Is it easier to ask questions than to find answers, and the most profound truths can be plumbed to their depths with the inquiring language of a child: if God is one, how can he also be three?

I am no expert on the Trinity. I want this space to be simply my own musings on the question posed above.

In one sense God, as “a being” must be One. Any belief in God at all must be a belief in a Single God. In particular, any belief supported by the philosophic reasoning lain down previously in this blog cannot deny that the “thing” ultimately responsible for the universe and all that is, must be one thing. Anyone who wants to can look back and see my argument for this. Simply put, my mind cannot conceive that at the basic level of existence reality is fractured or enisled from itself. Things cannot be ultimately disconnected from each other. There must be some unifying force, some underlying synthesizing agent, some cohesive mind or hand behind all that is. There must be some Single Principle. Otherwise I cannot understand how things could act on each other or co-exist in the same reality. Otherwise the term “uni-verse” simply loses meaning.

Thus I cannot deny that God, since he is such a ultimate and unifying principle, from whom flows all created things, is Singular. But as soon as I say this and start to think it through I run up against the doctrine of the Trinity, which say that God (singular) is really Three Persons (plural). The church Fathers seem to be at pains to point out all the various heresies involved in conceiving of these persons as not “really” separate persons. There is both Modalism and Partialism. The first states that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are really only different “modes” of the same divine essence. This results in the fact that God is really only one person who appears differently. Thus the true distinction and reality of the three persons are destroyed. The second heresy, on the other hand, says that each person is real but each one makes up only “part” of God. This seems to make God as such a component of pieces and also implies that no person is himself fully divine. For divinity is what happens when all three persons come together. And so the Father as Father cannot be divine, nor the Son as Son, etc.

The Athanasian Creed defines the Trinity like this: “But the Catholic faith is this, that we venerate one God in the Trinity, and the Trinity in oneness; neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance; for there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, (and) another of the Holy Spirit; but the divine nature of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is one, their glory is equal, their majesty is coeternal.” (Even if one thinks this creed, which some put around 500 AD, is of late origin, this same definition is found in many places in the ancient writings. See http://patristica.net/denzinger/ and control F “Trinity” if interested.”)

Now, what are we to make of this ancient Creed of Christianity, this One God in Three Persons?

To tell the truth, I don’t rightly know. But I will say I find Aquinas’ solution to be somehow promising (at least very intriguing). To horribly simplify his approach, it goes like this.

Well, first, a caveat. It needs to be clear that it has always been held that each Person of the Trinity has particular things about it that is true of itself alone, and false of the other persons. For instance, the Son was eternally begotten, but the Father and the Spirit were not. Likewise only the Son was incarnate. So, different things can be said about the persons. Yet at the same time each person has the essential qualities of divinity – such as perfection, immutability, omnipresence, etc.

Now, with that out of the way, Aquinas understands the Trinity like this. There is, first, the Father. And the Father, by an act of understanding himself, “begets” as it were, a perfect conception of his own essence. This internal conception is the Son. Thus he is sort of the result of an act of intellect on the part of the Father, which is why he is also called “the Word” or Logos. Now this Word, which is the exact representation of the Father himself, is also an object of the Father’s love. That is, there is an impulse on the part of the Father’s will which, as it were, reaches out to the Son, which “proceeds” from him. This is called the Spirit. Thus the Spirit, by way of a sort of vital impulsive movement, proceeds from the Father to the Son; and the Son, receiving such movement, himself also spirates the Spirit to the Father.

Thus Aquinas compares the relation between the Father, Son, and Spirit to our own experience of Intellect and Will. From what I can tell on this scheme the thing inside us which does the thinking would be the Father, the concept, which is itself a perfect image of the thing thinking, would be the Son, and the love which spirates out of of the thinking thing towards the concept would be the Spirit. Very difficult to pin down! But that’s because it evokes (quite rightly I believe) self-consciousness to help shed light on God. The problem is that self-consciousness itself is a huge mystery, so it is sort of like bringing in Calculus to help explain Rocket Science. Both subjects are tough. But isn’t it odd that something so familiar can remain so obscure? All day long we have self-reflective experiences, yet how rarely do we stop to consider just how deep an existential mystery we are engaged in.

Aquinas also maintains that God is “one” in this self-relating Trinitarian process by maintaining that this self-relational just IS God. Since it takes places within God himself (itself?), there is no need of positing “outside” realities which the persons stand up against. All is going on in God, timelessly and eternally. God is changelessly knowing himself, generating himself, loving himself, relating to himself. And since these relations are REAL the “persons” involved in such an action are also real.

Anyway, cutting it short for now. In mid thought for sure. Sometimes it is better that way.


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