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Some accounts of God make it sound as if the Father was the Creator, the Son that came to earth to save us, and finally the Spirit who opens to us the new life.  This too is a kind of modalism, but played out historically, in three phases or eras. In such an understanding, we live in the Third Age, of the Spirit.  You can see how this would appeal to our modern notions of being more advanced or enlightened, but you can also see how such ideas are debunked by the horrendous aspects of our world. (It should also be noted that Muslims too think they live in the third or new era of the final revelation, that of the Koran and Islam. This way of thinking easily falls into a notion that we have moved beyond the former revelation involving Jesus Christ!)

By contrast the traditional doctrine of the Trinity understood the actions of God to be one and indivisible, since the Actor Himself is one and so all His actions equally attributable to Him. The classic formulation comes again from St. Augustine: ‘all the works of God are indivisible.’ This is confirmed for example, by the affirmation in the Creeds that Jesus Christ is the one ‘through whom all things were made.’  If this is true, you can see how inclusive language naming God as ‘creator, redeemer, sanctifier’ is more confusing, and says less, than one might at first suppose.

As an addendum to this truth about the Trinity we should say that, sometimes, one person of the Trinity has a role that seems to us more prominent or discernible. The Father creates with the Son uttered and the Spirit hovering, the Son redeems as He hands Himself over to the Father and is raised by the Spirit- each involves all but in differing ways. We can see that in some cases the one work of God may be spoken most accurately by a kind of shorthand that focuses on the role of one person in that work. The tradition called this the doctrine of appropriation.  It does not compromise or undercut the prior truth that the persons always act in concert.

Read Revelation 21 and discuss how the persons cooperate in the indivisible work of God

The Trinity:  the relevance of irrelevance

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The name of the one God for Christians is found in the Trinitarian formula, ‘Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.’ This is found approximately in II Corinthians 13:14, ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’ and in the great commission at the end of Matthew, 28:19. While it is rooted in the New Testament witness and liturgical practice, the early centuries of the Church saw development and deepening of the Church’s understanding of the theology which the name encapsulates. This then is the first thing to say: the doctrine of the Trinity is not in addition to the witness of Scripture, but enables the Church to understand that witness. It points us back to the identity of God revealed in the Bible.

    At the same time that identity is revealed, the mystery of God is not compromised. The persons are not parts of God, nor qualities alone, such that one could add a fourth and fifth.  He is that same one God who is the prime actor of the Bible’s story. There is a life within God, and relations, but not in such a way that ‘God’ is only a term for them taken collectively. You can see how the doctrine serves to tell us how not to think about him, to correct errors, at the same time what it identifies who He is.

    As we shall see in the next blog, the persons are involved in all that God does in the world and for us. God speaks his Word as the Spirit broods over creation in the beginning. The Father speaks to the Son as the Spirit descends at Jesus’ baptism.  And yet the doctrine Trinity says more than how God acts in the world. It first of all says, who He is, and from eternity.  He is already there in Genesis 1 before the world comes to be, and the triune God chooses to create the world for the sake of His overflowing love and beneficence. There is neither here nor anywhere any necessity imposed on God.

   So, we first of all hear who God Father, Son, and Spirit is, and do so in wonder. It is not first of all knowledge that helps us accomplish anything.  He is so, on His own for His own sake.  That is what we mean by the doctrine’s irrelevance, to our purposes at least.   St. Augustine said that God can never be used, only enjoyed.  Nowhere is this more true than with this the holy, mysterious, and infinitely dynamic name of God.

Sing ‘Holy, Holy, Holy” and observe how it illustrates the nature of the Trinitarian doctrine.

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