Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Theology: God, the Holy Trinity

This past week at RCIA, our topics were "The Image of God" and "The Trinity". I'd like to open the "floor" to a bit of discussion about the Trinity, primarily because I wrote a comment or two on The Weekend Fisher's blog a couple months ago and never got back to the subject -- and, being the selfish guy I am, I'd like to continue that train of thought on my blog rather than her's. Mea culpa!

How do you grasp (to whatever extent) the mystery of the Trinity? For a historical look at the matter, I strongly suggest you read the Athanasian Creed (Quicumque vult); in it, St. Athanasius -- the champion of Trinitarian Christianity against the oppression of Arius -- very clearly and explicitly describes the three Person, their relationships to one another, their substance, their nature, their being, etc. It sacrifices prolixity for unambiguity; it is verbose and unequivocal.

I'll supply a few sub-topics for conversation.
  • What verses in Scripture support the doctrine of the Trinity? Which verses seem to hinder it?
  • What do we mean when we say that God is three "persons"?
  • How can we infer that God is at least two "persons" from St. John's statement that "God is love" (1 John 4:8,16)?
  • Why are the canonical names of the three Persons in the Trinity -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (or Ghost) -- the best names to use? That is, how are they better than names such as "Creator", "Redeemer", and "Sanctifier"?
  • How are the three Persons of the Trinity related to one another? Specifically, where does the Holy Spirit come into the equation? (St. Thomas Aquinas to the rescue! Preface, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Note)
I'll refrain from posting my (verbose) thoughts on the matter until there's some other chatter!


Moonshadow said...

The Athanasian Creed is my favorite of the major creeds, not just because it's attributed to Athanasius of Alexandria but because of its clear language: Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. ... This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved. I don't find the language tedious at all, as others have.

What verses in Scripture support the doctrine of the Trinity?

The so-called "Johannine Comma" provides the clearest support ... but has been expunged from modern translations:

"For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one."
1 John 5:7-8.

There's the command to baptize in the Name of the Trinity in Matthew 28. 2 Cor. 13:13, read on the solemnity (N.O.): The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the holy Spirit be with all of you. The NAB footnote reads that "The final verse [verse 13] is one of the clearest trinitarian passages in the New Testament."

Which verses seem to hinder it?

Those verses in which Jesus says, "The Father is greater than I" or "No one is good but God alone" or in which Jesus defers to the Father rather than exhibit omniscience, in the "mini-apocalypses" of Matt. 24 and Mark 13.

What do we mean when we say that God is three "persons"?

This is not an easy question ... and I think we've lost quite a bit of understanding since the doctrine was first formulated. From Wiki:

hypostasis is usually understood with a meaning akin to the Greek word prosopon, which is translated into Latin as persona and then into English as person. The Christian view of the Trinity is often described as a view of one God existing in three distinct hypostases/personae/persons. It should be noted that the Latin "persona" is not the same as the English "person" but is the same as the English "persona."

I wrote a post on hypostasis earlier this month, at the conclusion of a Early Church Christology study.

If hypostasis is better understood as "persona" rather than "person," then "Creator," "Redeemer," and "Sanctifier" are legitimate. But these days, we emphasis personal relationship, so we'd rather the familial names. I don't think the latter are better; the former are used in the Bible of the persons of the Trinity.

This will have to do for now ... If I have further thoughts, I'll post them ...

preacherman said...

Wonderful post as always.
I am learning and trying to learn more and more about the Trinity. God bless you for such wonderful thoughts on this subject. I appreciate all the helps. God bless you and your wife as you do His will. I hope ya'll have a blessed week brother.