What do we believe about the Trinity?



1. Limitations of language
‘If you can understand it, it’s not God’. (Augustine of Hippo)

 2. Experience of disciples

a) They knew that there was only one God

Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord. (Deuteronomy 6:4)
For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me. (Isaiah 46:9)

The first followers call the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, God (Colossians 1.3) 

They also saw that Jesus prayed to God as Father (eg. John 11.41), is conscious of being loved by the Father, of being sent by the Father, of being given all things by the Father (3.34), of speaking the words of the Father (12.49f), doing the works of the Father (4.34, 6.38), judging with the judgement of the Father (8.16), sharing in the glory of the Father (8.54; 17.5), and of being one with the Father (John 10.29).

Jesus had this sense of being in the Father and of having the Father in him (John 14.10f,20). The idea of ‘perichoresis’. He said that whoever saw him, saw the Father (John 14.9)

cf. John 5.23,24,30-38; 6.29,44,57; 7.16,18,28,29,33; 8.16,18,26,29,42; 9.4; 10.36; 11.42; 12.44,45; 13.20; 14.24; 15.21; 16.5; 17.3,8,18,23ff,

Jesus sends the Spirit: ‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf’ (John 15.26)

b)  They also came to know Jesus as God

It was God who walked among them (John 1.1,18; John 8.58f cf John 10.33)
It was God who saved them. (2 Peter 1.1 cf 3.18)
It was God who rose from the dead (John 20.28)
So they speak of Jesus as the eternal Son of God visible image of the invisible God (Colossians 1.15), as the ‘the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being’ (Heb1.3) 

G A Studdart-Kennedy: (Quoted, Understand the Trinity, McGrath, p103)
'God, the God I love and worship, reigns in sorrow on the Tree,
Broken, bleeding, but unconquered, very God of God to me’

c) They came to know the Holy Spirit as God

Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit …? You have not lied to men but to God. (Acts 5:3–4)

They speak of the Spirit as:
·         the Spirit of God: ‘if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you’ (Rom 8.11) also, for example, 1 John 4.2
·         the Spirit of the Son (Galatians 4.6)
·         the Spirit of Christ (Philippians 1.19; 2 Peter 1.11) 

3. How the reality of the Trinity has been expressed in Christian thinking

Council of Nicaea (325)

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in 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;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven,
was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father (and the Son),
who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Of Faith in the Holy Trinity (Article 1 of the 39 Articles of the Church of England)
There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Other ways that the mystery of the Trinity has been expressed:

      ·         The 3 leafed clover/shamrock
·         Ice, steam, water (Sabellianism)/three chord note
·         The river: source, stream, mouth
·         Augustine tried to see the Trinity reflected in creation: eg. the lover, beloved, and love; memory, understanding, and will; the objects of sense, the will to attend to them, and the sense impressions of them


4. Why is the language of the Trinity important?

a) It guards us against error

The danger of over-emphasizing the one substance of God (Unitarianism, Jehovah’s Witnesses):
There is one God who is:
– the Father ‘up there’: but then he is still distant to us and it makes Jesus a created being. His death cannot show us the love of God. The cross can only speak of the love of God if the one dying on the cross was the eternal Son of God.  (Romans 5.8; 1 John 3.10).
Islam is the logical monotheistic faith.
- Jesus Christ ‘who was up there but came down here’: but what are we to make of the fact that Jesus prays to one who is Other to him, and what are we to make of his death?
- the Spirit: If we separate the Spirit from Father and Son, and make the Spirit the force within us which drives us, then we make ourselves God. The true Spirit gives us a love for Jesus, a desire to call him Lord, and a hunger for the Glory of God the Father.

The danger of over-emphasizing the distinctiveness of the three persons
Which God is the main God? What is God like – the angry Father or the loving Son? The crucifixion becomes the supreme example of child abuse.

b) It opens a new world to us.

i. I can pray to the Father, Son or Holy Spirit, but they will each lead me to the others.

Gregory Nazianzen, Orations 40.41, on Baptism: “This I give you to share, and to defend all your life, the one Godhead and power, found in the three in unity, and comprising the three separately; not unequal, in substances or natures, neither increased nor diminished by superiorities nor inferiorities; in every respect equal, in every respect the same; just as the beauty and the greatness of the heavens is one; the infinite conjunction of three infinite ones, each God when considered in himself; as the Father, so the Son; as the Son, so the Holy Spirit; the three one God when contemplated together; each God because consubstantial; one God because of the monarchia. No sooner do I conceive of the one than I am illumined by the splendor of the three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the one. When I think of any one of the three I think of him as the whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of that one so as to attribute a greater greatness to the rest. When I contemplate the three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the undivided light.”  (as quoted by Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity, 378)

ii. We are invited to share in the relationship of the Trinity.

- the commission of the Trinity: “Jesus says, ‘As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world’ (John 17.18 cf 20.21)
- the works of the Trinity (John 14.12)
- the words of the Trinity (John 17.8)
- the joy of the Trinity (John 17.13)
- the intimacy and glory of the Trinity
‘I ask that  .. they may all be one. As you, Father are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.’ (John 17.21ff)

iii. Shapes our understanding of

·         personal identity: The Son finds his true identity in his relationship with the Father, but he also longs to draw human beings into that relationship. My true identity comes from my relationship with Christ and the Father, and also from my relationship with others. (Philosophical movement called personalism. Zizioulas, Being as Communion)
·         love: The love between Son and Father is a love that delights in the Other, and is so at one with the Other that it beats with the same heart (John 1.18). It also delights in the Otherness of the Other, and it seeks the glory of the Other. But this is not an exclusive love: it longs to draw others into its union. 
·         mission/purpose: the Father sent/gave his Son to draw others into the community of love of the Trinity, through the speaking of the words of God to them, and through his death for them.
·         glory: the glory of the Son was when the Father was glorified. The glory of the Father is when the son is glorified.

5. Ways of expressing the Trinity that are more relationship based
(each of these are inadequate in themselves, but do help us see the idea of relationship in the Trinity)

-          The Shack, William Young

-          Three people sharing a hug

When I look at the Trinity, I am right to see One. This is One Hug - one expression of love, one heartbeat, a unity. They delight in each other. They live for the glory of the Other. The Son wants everyone to see how amazing, beautiful, glorious the Father is. The Father wants everyone to see how amazing, beautiful, glorious the Son is. The Spirit wants everyone to see how amazing, beautiful, glorious the Father and Son are.

But when I look at the Trinity, I am also right to see Three. Three persons within in the One Hug. Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

But the Trinity is also an open Hug - each person inviting others to join in the Hug. It doesn't matter if I start with the Son, with Jesus. He brings me to the Father and the Spirit. It doesn't matter if I start with the Spirit. If it is the Spirit of God, he will bring me to the Father and the Son. It doesn't matter if I start with the Father, he will bring me to the Spirit and to the Son.

-          The Trinity icon








APPENDIX: Some references to the working of Father, Son and Spirit

And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3.16-17 cf Luke 3.22 

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. Matthew 28.19 

The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. Luke 1.35 

He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. John 3.34f 

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. John 14.26 

But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Acts 7.55 

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you. Romans 8.11 

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God. Romans 8.15f 

And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!  Galatians 4.6 

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him. Ephesians 1.17 

for through him [Christ Jesus] both of us [Jews and Gentiles] have access in one Spirit to the Father. Ephesians 2.18 

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. 2 Corinthians 13.13 

how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!  Hebrews 9.14 

who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood: 1 Peter 1.2 

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.   1 John 4.2


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