The Holy Trinity

In writing on the subject of the Filioque Clause I realised how little thought was given to the theology that is at stake here, so rather than continue to expand the article on the Filioque Clause I decided it would be better to write an article on the subject of the Holy Trinity, and with some attention to the Procession of the Holy Spirit. Clearly the articles will have a strong connection, and no doubt this will lead to a second article on the Filioque.

At the outset let me say that if you prefer a simple faith, and you are happy with the notion of the three in one and one in three, then you probably wont enjoy this article, and quite frankly thinking too hard about the trinity can do you head in, so if you are happy without it, please don’t read the article.

The word trinity does not appear in the Bible. That by no means that the doctrine is not scriptural. More precisely it means that the Bible is not a theology textbook.

In the first account of creation, Genesis 1, we find the account in the beginning when God was creating, and in the account the Spirit – the breath of God – moves on the face of the water, and the creative word spoken by God call things into being. There is a clear enough reference to this passage in the prologue to the fourth gospel, John 1:1-18, where the writer identifies Jesus with the creative word of God.

1 John 5 has been a classic text, and the King James text read for verse 7, “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” Generally as a result of biblical criticism the text renders more simply in contemporary translations. This is because later scholarship has access to earlier manuscripts, and the is a discipline of taking the harder reading.

Matthew 28:19 in modern translations reads “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. This means that the idea of Trinity, if not fully threshed out, was certainly present in the thinking of the early Church.

The Institute of Islamic Information and Education poses the question ‘Who Invented the Trinity’. Of course this is a classic case of a ‘straw house’ argument. Of course no one invented the Trinity.

The Trinity is an expression of our understanding of God, the alpha point of all existence. Christianity is a monotheistic faith. We believe is One God. We share this monotheism with a number of other religions, including the Abrahamic religions of Judaism and Islam. Believing in God, even believing in one God, does not of itself make you a Christian. There is however a strong connection  in this primary understanding as we would all see the God of Abraham as the God whom we worship today. I make that point, not to gloss over the distinctions, but to recognise a common root in these three traditions or faith and practice.

The Old Testament references to God and the Spirit of God are numerous. and there is no sense in which one may conclude in reading them that the Spirit is a subsidiary God, or that the Spirit is not life-giving and divine. There is no sense in which this implies a faith in anything other than One God. Indeed there are a number of titles used for God in the Old Testament and these include God, Lord, Lord of Hosts, God Almighty, God Most High, God of Israel, God who Sees, amongst others. The use of a number of titles does not assume or imply that there was a belief in more than one God. It is clear that Abraham journeyed from Ur of the Chaldees, where polytheism (belief in many Gods) was much more normative, and no doubt some of the tradition and tale he carried with him to the new land reflected and evolved from that as evidenced by the discovery of the Gilgamesh epic (which includes among other things a genealogy with some striking similarities to the genealogy in Genesis and an account of a great food).

In the Old Testament the Spirit proceeds from God. There is a monarchical understanding of God as the source of all that is. The is no doubt that God is largely spoken of in terms of transcendence, over all, above all, beyond all, and only rarely do we find the sense of immanence, proximity, where God encounters a person as a one might speak to a friend. The conversations with God and Adam and Even in the Garden.

Often in Old Testament terms the immanence of God is the role of the Spirit of God, as near a breathing. The New Testament accounts for the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus understood as the Messiah, the long-awaited ‘prophet like unto Moses’ and the life of the early church and a number of writings as determined by the early Church as being part of the Canon of Scripture.

The New Testament speaks of Jesus as the Son of God and Son of Man, and at times these terms seem almost interchangeable. In many senses Jesus represent a bridge between the immanent and the transcendent, as his is clearly both.

In the Exodus encounter between Moses and God in the fiery bush, Moses seeks the name of God that he might tell the people who has sent him. The revelation here is the Tetragrammaton, the unspeakable name of God. It is an enigmatic term implying being, with a very undetermined tense,  as if God was foreshadowing the existentialist movement – probably the most prevalent thought construct of the western world to this day.

As Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, he all but encapsulates and evaporates the transcendent as he begins, ‘Our Father …’ . God is at once universal and personal. All four of the Gospel Narratives affirm both the divinity and the humanity of Jesus. The prologue the St John’s Gospel is perhaps some of the most profound Christological writing in the New Testament.

So in the writings we accept as scripture we have reference to God, whom Jesus teaches us to call Father (in the sense of familial relationship as against gender), and it speaks of Jesus, Son of Man and Son of God, Divine yet Human, and it speaks of The Spirit of God not simply in terms of ideal and energy, but of a real and effective presence of God as near as breathing.

Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna and Disciple of John the Apostle wrote early in the second century. “O Lord God almighty . . . I bless you and glorify you through the eternal and heavenly high priest Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through whom be glory to you, with Him and the Holy Spirit, both now and forever”

In around 110 AD Irenaeus wrote in terms of exhorting obedience to Christ, and to the Father, and to the Spirit. And the early fathers followed, Justin Martyr, Theophilus, Tertullian, and the Church explored the meaning of the Trinity. The creed devised at the Council of Nicaea, though it does not of itself use the word Trinity is clearly a Trinitarian Creed. The Nicene Creed has four belief statements, credo, God the Father, Jesus Christ His only Son Our Lord, and The Holy Spirit the Lord the Giver of Live. The fourth Statement is a believe in the unity of the Church.

Belief at the centre of Christianity in this threefold understanding of the one God has come to identify the Church. Having Faith in Jesus, trusting Jesus, reminds us that he spoke both about his Father, Our Father, and about the Advocate, the Spirit who he would send. A natural outcome of walking in the footsteps of Jesus is coming to an understanding of the Trinity.

By the time of the Council of Nicaea 321 AD the shape of this Trinitarian understanding had taken shape.

  • The monarchical sense of God – Transcendent and creative – the alpha point – expressed in terms of faith in God the Father.
  • The understanding of the Divinity of Jesus – pre-existent yet begotten of the Father, as much God as the Father, yet redemptive, and passionately involved in the life of all humanity, expressed in terms of one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.
  • The understanding of the Spirit, God as near as breathing, active in the world, empowering, revealing, and the driving force who enables the Church to fulfil its sacramental role as the body of Christ in the world, and expressed in terms We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, and worshiped and glorified with the Father and the Son.

Noticeably from the point of view of the discussion to the Point, God is One, the Father is the Monarchical sense of God, source of all being, and the Son and the Spirit emanate from the Father, in deed at one with the Father, in the case of the Son ‘begotten’, and in the case of the Spirit ‘Proceeding’.

It is reasonable to suggest that in the terms of the Oecumenical Councils, Nicaea, Constantinople 1 and Chalcedon, the is a predominant sense of a single procession of the Spirit from the father as the dominant expression of Christian orthodoxy.


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