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Call Me a Heretic if You Want x•x•x Trinity Doctrine Made Easy

One “kind” of being, three actual beings of that “kind.”  That’s it.

The concept of the Trinity (God = one in essence and three in persons) is not hard to understand.  There is no mystery to it.  People just get tripped up with the semantics.  

If I have human triplets (who would then have a human nature [nature x]) that each grow up to have the same moral character (character y), they would all be one in essence or nature (nature x + character y = essence).  Three persons, one essence.  

What’s so hard about that?

Here … I’ll make it even easier.  The following letters have the same essence/nature as letters of written communication with the same size even, same shape, same everything, except there’s THREE of them:

X X X 

What’s so hard about that?

So … God, as defined by the Nicene Creed teaches that there are three beings who are divine, and therefore each have all that is appropriate to that divine nature.  Three persons … one divine nature.  One “kind” of being, three actual beings of that “kind.”  Simple.  Easy.  Fun.  Yippee.  Yay.

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4 Comments

  1. Hmm… I don’t think that’s quite it. The Nicene formula–as I understand it–asks us to affirm that God exists as one nature in three persons. What you are suggesting seems tri-theism. But the Father, Son, and Spirit do not merely share an identical kind of nature, but they actually share the same nature. In your analogy of the triplets, you could kill one of them and the other two would still live. But it doesn’t work that way with the Trinity–the three persons of the Godhead share a nature which is numerically one. Gregory of Nazianzus talks about this, and how an analogy from human relations breaks down. Diogenes Allen has some helpful comments on it in his Philosophy for Understanding Theology, 96 ff. A great book overall, by the way, in case you haven’t read it.

    Perhaps if one were trying to develop a crass analogy from nature, it would be similar to Siamese twins sharing the same body. They don’t just have identical bodies, but the same body.

  2. theophilogue says:

    Thanks Gerald! I was worried someone would jump in and tell me I had just espoused a heresy, but since I’m just working with what I’ve been handed by my teachers, I figured if I’m a heretic, so are all my teachers, and it’s not my fault.

    Thanks for pointing me to those resources. My professors at Liberty and Southern never explained the doctrine of the Trinity the way you just did. The “nature” has always been explained to me in terms of omniscience, omnipresence, etc. (all the things that are appropriate to a divine ‘nature’). That is, the ‘nature’ has always been explained as deity.

    What you seem to be saying is that “nature” or “essence” refers to something other than that. I’ve never heard that, but that doesn’t by any means mean that it’s not what the fathers meant when they wrote the creed. I suppose to really know what the creed means, one would need to study the Fathers who wrote it extensively.

    So … if “nature” doesn’t refer to deity (all those attributes appropriate to a divine being), what does it refer to?

    My analogy is of triplets who all have the same character and nature, but distinct bodies.
    Your saying the Trinity is more like a three headed person, basically.

    Unless I know what the “body” in your illustration stands for, though, it’s hard to imagine what the meaning of the Nicene Creed actually is.

    I have great faith that you can easily straighten me out on this one, and maybe I will for the first time come to understand the Nicene Creed.

  3. Your faith may be misplaced…

    This isn’t my field, really, but as I understand it, the fathers were working from a basic plantonic/substantialist metaphysic. The divine nature is an actual thing, all be it, immaterial, and is equivalent to how we might understand soul. Thus the things you mentioned–omniscience, omnipresence, etc., are attributes of the divine nature. So in other words, the three persons of the Trinity share the same divine soul. I probably haven’t stated this right, but this is how I understand the fathers.

    So in the analogy of the three headed person, the heads are equivalent to “persons” and the body is equivalent to “nature/soul”. The nature/soul then can be ascribed attributes common to the divine nature. Help any?

  4. theophilogue says:

    Thanks Gerald!

    My faith was not at all misplaced. That’s very helpful. I never realized you had to know so much just to understand what the Nicene formula meant to those who wrote it. I wonder if it still means the same thing to all my professors who teach it today in our evangelical schools, because I’ve never heard it explained that way. Maybe everyone except those who read up on the philosophy behind the creed are actually heretics. Do you think this is possible?

    I’m still at a loss here, however. I thought that personhood was dependent on the notion of each person having their own soul. I thought that the soul was the retainer of our consciousness, thus enabling us to live beyond the decay of the brain. It’s hard to know what it might mean that three persons would have the same soul when the notions of personhood and soul retaining a normal meaning. Am I misunderstanding something here with my notions of soul and personhood?

    It’s as though I’m coming to understand what your saying, yet at the same time, I’m growing more and more confused thereby about the Nicene Creed. Is this confusion the “nature” (no pun intended) the great heralded “mystery” of the Trinity? I hope not.

    Bradley

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