Friday, August 04, 2006

The Trinity

The doctrine of the Trinity (or Tri-unity) is one of those doctrines that is formulated, and believed, but not fully understood by any except God. How God can be eternally Three, and yet eternally One, and both the three-ness and the one-ness being equally explanatory of who God is and equally important, is quite beyond us to understand. The word "Trinity" does not refer to a character in the movie Matrix, but rather to the fact that God is Three and God is One, though not in the same sense. We usually say that God is One in His essence, and Three in person. We do not hold to three Gods, but one God. And yet this One God is known to us as revealing Himself in three Persons. This is possible by the mutual indwelling of each person in the other two persons, such indwelling having the fancy name of "perichoresis." We do not believe that the Three Persons are just another name for different faces of God. That is, we do not hold that God picks up and takes off different masks. This is the error of modalism. The Persons are inseparable, yet distinct. And yet, each of the three Persons is fully God. We do not hold that one Person is higher or more important than the other two persons. Each of the three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are equally God. Calvin says it best when he cannot think of the One without immediately being faced with the Three; and cannot contemplate the Three without immediately being carried back to the One. See Calvin's Institutes 1.13. In terms of ontological being, we say that the Father is the eternal Begettor, the Son is the eternally Begotten, and the Holy Spirit is the eternally Processing One. The word "eternal" in each of these descriptions is vital, since none of the Three Persons have a beginning in time or eternity. There are no analogies to the Trinity anywhere in nature that really work. Why should we know about this doctrine? Read Ephesians 1, wherein our salvation is accomplished by the One God in Three Persons. The Father plans our salvation; the Son accomplished our salvation; and the Holy Spirit applies our salvation to us. It is of eminent importance that we contemplate and meditate on this doctrine, since our salvation depends on it. This is not merely some abstract theological discussion, but rather an absolute essential of the Christian faith. Look at the structure of the Apostles' Creed: Trinitarian. The Nicene Creed is the same. Some of you might have heard of the "filioque controversy." "Filioque" means "and from the Son." This refers to whether the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father (like the Eastern Orthodox Church believes), or from the Father and from the Son, as the Western church believes. The clause in question was added to the Nicene Creed by the Council of Toledo in 589 A.D., having been adopted by many churches prior to that date (Letham, pg. 202). The best book on the subject that I know of is Robert Letham's book entitled simply The Holy Trinity. Get it. There is so much more that could be said on it. I have only given the most bare-bones outline of what this discussion involves.


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