Feast celebrates the doctrine of the Trinity

Most religious holy days celebrate some grand event that God brought to pass. The feast of Trinity this Sunday is the only major holiday in the church year that honors a theological doctrine.

The escape of slaves from bondage, the birth of a savior, resurrection from the dead and other dramatic events are acts of God, according to scholars who use them to shape our understanding of God in theology. The concept of the Trinity stands alone without specific historical roots.

The word, Trinity, is not in the Bible, but most Christian scholars argue that Scripture implies a God who makes himself known to the faithful in three distinct persons as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It is that sense of a triune God that Christians embrace that brings much consternation to Judaism and Islam. They argue that the idea of three persons in one God, however nuanced, muddies monotheistic waters.

The late Episcopal Bishop Jim Pike joked that Islam might be a more attractive religion than Christianity because Islam offered the faithful three wives and one God while Christians were stuck with one wife and three Gods.

There is no such levity in Trinitarian theology. The doctrine became critically important in early church struggles against those who refused to acknowledge the divinity of Jesus the Son and the independent divine work of the Spirit.

Read the whole thing.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Episcopal Church (TEC), Theology

14 comments on “Feast celebrates the doctrine of the Trinity

  1. tdunbar says:

    the article continues “but that one God makes himself known in three distinct manners….”

    Manners? MANNERS? Now, is that more or less impersonal than MODES?
    I think neither term is very orthodox, personally 🙂

  2. Bishop Daniel Martins says:

    I have always contended that Trinity Sunday is NOT about the of the Trinity–it’s about the Trinity. That may seem like a minor distinction, but it’s huge. All of our ORTHOdoxy is for naught if it does not lead us to DOXology. Trinity Sunday is about giving glory to the Triune God, not the doctrine of the Triune God.

  3. Bishop Daniel Martins says:

    I have always contended that Trinity Sunday is NOT about the doctrine of the Trinity–it’s about the Trinity. That may seem like a minor distinction, but it’s huge. All of our ORTHOdoxy is for naught if it does not lead us to DOXology. Trinity Sunday is about giving glory to the Triune God, not the doctrine of the Triune God.

  4. DGus says:

    “The word, Trinity, is not in the Bible….” True, of course, but the Bible does explicitly teach each of these three propositions–

    1. There is one God;
    2. Each of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is God; and
    3. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct from each other

    –which. taken together, ARE the doctrine of the Trinity. “Trinity” is our shorthand for simultaneously affirming all three of these solidly Biblical truths.

    Pick any two and they are easy to affirm; but affirming all three is hard. Most significant heresies and cults “simplify” Christianity by dropping one of these affirmations. (E.g., Mormonism drops #1; Jehovah’s Witnesses drop #2; Sabellian “Modalism” drops #3.) We might compromise and fail to affirm all these truths, if the Church had not taught us the doctrine of the Trinity.

  5. dwstroudmd+ says:

    Blessed be YHWH, Yeshuah, and Ruach HaKodesh!

  6. HowieG says:

    To those who can not understand or do not want to understand the concept of a Triune God (aka, the Trinity), please take a lesson from one of God’s great creations: water. At 0.16° C, water co-exists as a solid, a liquid and a vapor simultaneously. It’s called the triple point of water. If water, a creation, can exist in three distinct forms at the same time, who in this universe, are we to say that God, the Creator, can not exist as three persons (theology discussion left out purposely)??????
    H

  7. D. C. Toedt says:

    HowieG [#6] asks: “… are we to say that God, the Creator, can not exist as three persons (theology discussion left out purposely)?????? ”

    No — but we have no reason to think the Creator actually does exist that way.

    The orthodox are certainly welcome to conjecture that God consists of exactly three persons. The problem arises when they insist that all other “right-thinking” Christians must accept that unverifiable conjecture as immutable truth.

    God is what he is, which is not necessarily the same as what we imagine him to be. (Recall that YHWH is thought to mean, “I am what I am” or “I will be what I will be.”) We might as well imagine that God is an infinitely-intelligent house cat as that he’s a Trinity; we can neither verify nor refute either view.

    And in any case, what does it matter? Would Christians conduct their lives any differently if God turned out to be two persons? Or four? Or one?

  8. Militaris Artifex says:

    I have a question sparked by the reference to the late Bishop James Pike in the article. Does anyone here know if it is still true that Pike is the only Jesuit ever elected to the episcopacy?

  9. libraryjim says:

    DC.
    See the creed attributed to St. Athanasius.

  10. dwstroudmd+ says:

    We have excellent reasons to think that God exists in exactly three persons, DC. If you have a ’79 Prayer Book, go to the historical documents section and read the Athanasian Creed (so called) aka the Quincunque vult and the Definition of Chalcedon – meditatively and contemplatively and often. You can lead up to them patristically and in the Councils of the Church as well as follow the argumentation post-Niceae. A good starting point is: http://www.creeds.net/ . Have fun!

    If you prefer, try Dorothy L. Sayers’ CREED OR CHAOS or THE MIND OF THE MAKER. Alternatively, read her translation of the Divine Comedy and notes. Fun and educational and profitable to the soul, all of those!

  11. DGus says:

    Dear D.C.: I can’t tell for sure whether you write as a Christian, a seeker, or a scoffer. If you’re not a Christian, then blessings on you anyway (or especially), but I’ll write here as if to a Christian:

    Of course it is true that God is “not necessarily the same as what we IMAGINE him to be,” but He is–and we must affirm and insist that He is–what He has REVEALED Himself to be. Someone who believes that Jesus is God the Son, and that Jesus founded and preserves His Church, will believe the Scriptures as they are expounded by the Church. For that reason, in addition to being blasphemous it is very silly to say (in a Christian context) that “we might as well imagine that God is an infinitely-intelligent house cat as that he’s a Trinity; we can neither verify nor refute either view.” On the contrary, we can verify a Trinitarian view from the Scriptures, and we can refute any other.

    You ask, “And in any case, what does it matter?” Just on principle, it matters if we reject the revealed Truth. But in addition, there are very important devotional implications of God’s being a Trinity. The easiest of your questions to answer in this regard is, “Would Christians conduct their lives any differently if God turned out to be … one [Person]?” Yes, in two ways:

    1. A solitary monad God is alone in the pre-existence. He has nothing to love unless and until He creates a love object. This monad God is CAPABLE of love, but evidently love is not a part of His eternal nature. The Christian Triune God, on the other hand, is an eternal community of love between Father, Son, and Spirit. Of this (true) God, the Apostle John could rightly say, “God IS love.” Love is His nature (not contingent on the existence of creatures).

    2. If only one Person is God, then we cannot say that the Father is God AND Jesus is God. We must either choose between them (and strip Jesus (and the Spirit) of divinity) or suppose that Jesus and the Father are two modes of that one Person (making Jesus’ human existence a temporary or illusionary foray into some aspects of human existence).

    Likewise, to posit that God exists in TWO Persons (not three) is to deny the deity of the Holy Spirit, to deny Him our worship (which must be given to God alone), and make Him an angel or a force (or a synonym for the Father?). I haven’t spent much time thinking about the consequences of adding a fourth Person to make a “Quaternity,” but in the one quirky instance I’m aware of in which this was done, it resulted in idolizing Mary (by promoting her to godhood).

    Truth matters.

  12. D. C. Toedt says:

    LibraryJim [#9] and dwmstroudmd [#10], I’m familiar with the Athanasian Creed. It rehearses the trinitarian view of God, certainly, and asserts that we’ll go to hell if we don’t accept that view. But it completely fails to offer any evidence, let alone persuasive evidence, to support the trinitarian view and to explain why we ought to accept it. Without such evidence, Athanasius’s assertions are no more credible than the counterpart claims of, say, the radical Islamists. (“Because I said so!” doesn’t usually persuade people, at least not anyone over the age of about three.)

    ———————

    DGus [#11], your arguments seem to rest on speculation — for example, that God “IS” love — and on the questionable premise that God definitively revealed himself to the first Christians (a subject we’ve discussed here before, so I won’t go into it again).

    In addition, the reasoning of your arguments seems dangerously close to an assortment of false dichotomies. Suppose we were to assume, as you claim, that God indeed IS love. It wouldn’t automatically follow that love is not part of the eternal nature of a monad God, as you claim; we simply don’t know enough to say that.

    Conjectures like yours are wonderful things (and arguably are part of God’s processes of continuing creation). They’re how we come up with potential explanations for, and insights into, the phenomena we observe in God’s creation. We can test those explanations and insights against other observations of that reality (which we do in acknowledgment that what we believe to be true can sometimes be incomplete or flat-out wrong). And we can use those explanations and insights to help us guide our actions in this life. Paul was right in 1 Thess. 5.21 when he said, in effect, don’t scorn the fruits of the spirit; test everything, and keep what turns out to be good.

    But if history has proved anything, it’s that (generally speaking) an ounce of observation is worth at least a ton of theory. As Deut. 18.21-22 says, if what a prophet says doesn’t come to pass or turn out to be true, then what he said was not something the LORD told him to say, and we shouldn’t accept it.

    Conjectures are wonderful, but they need to be acknowledged for what they are. Unfortunately, “right-thinking” Christians have rested far more theological weight on their trinitarian conjecture than it can possibly support.

    ————–

    DGus [#11], you refer in your last sentence to idolizing Mary by promoting her to godhood. I happen to think that’s just what traditionalists have done with Jesus and the Spirit. The fact that they’ve been doing it for at least 1,700 years doesn’t mean they’re correct. (For thousands of years, people said the sun revolved around the earth, but they weren’t correct either.)

  13. HowieG says:

    to D.C.: Please refer to this web site for a detailed discussion of the Trinity: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15047a.htm It is too long to reprint here.

    H

  14. D. C. Toedt says:

    HowieG [#13], thanks for the link, but the discussions there suffer from the same fatal infirmities that I reviewed in my earlier comments.

    When it comes to the nature of God, we have just as much reason to treat the conjectures of Jewish or Muslim or Hindu thinkers as binding or authoritative — that is to say, none — as we do those of Christian scriptural authors or church fathers. The bottom line is that we simply don’t know enough to be making falsely-confident claims on the subject.