The Trinity through the Ages
Trinitarian theology that states that there is one God that exists in three persons namely the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit has been an area of deep controversies. This is because people have found it problematic to make sense of the idea of having one divine being while there is more than one being in it. The doctrine appears as logically inconsistent and mysterious and yet they are expected to believe in it for the Christian faith to be of sense to them. The Bible clearly forbids worship of idols or other beings other than God. It is states that Jesus is not the Father (Mt. 24:36) and human beings should worship only the Father (Mt 5:9-13). This implies that when worshipping, we must understand that the Holy Spirit, Jesus and Father are God and not three gods. Throughout history theologians have made great effort to demystify the Trinitarian ideology and this essay shall compare and contrast the differing emphases and concerns among them (Farrelly, 2005).
In Irenaeus’ opinion, God is a spirit that transcends divinely through his creation rather than one that exists separately from his creation. He espouses that God the Spirit and Son emanate from the Father and they have an eternal existence together with God and in God. This is because they originate from God are one with him. This implies that they are just as divine as God and they work in a mutual relationship of one divine nature. Irenaeus also attributes different functions of the three entities with the Father being the author of creation and redemption and with the Son and spirit enacting the Father’s redemption and creative work. The Son and the spirit have the power to enact the Father’s will in the economy (Phan, 2011).
Augustine on the other hand makes a distinction between passages of the Bible that connotes that the Son is a form of God that divine and is equal to the Father and that that depicts him as a form of a slave making him less than the Father (Fitzgerald & Cavadini, 1999). Augustine unlike Ireneaus firmly believes in the unity of trinity being composed of identical rather than different divine substance that is inseparable and operates inseparably in cooperation as they are one. He describes the relationship of Father, Son and Spirit as that of begetting, begotten and being bestowed with each of them being in a relationship with one or both. He describes the spirit as the mutual love of the Son and Father a bond that unites them. The Father begot the Son from whom the Spirit proceeds. This means that the spirit came from both the Father and Son who are one (Fitzgerald & Cavadini, 1999).
Gregory of Nyassa emphasized about the oneness of nature of the three persons and quoted Luke 11:2 which states that Holy Spirit was brought to purify them to show that the Spirit’s work and Father’s work was identical and because the Son was also indistinguishable from the two, the nature of the three remains the same (Migliore, 2004). Nyassa’s emphasis concurs with Augustine’s that the three are indistinguishable in their divine nature. Gregory of Nazianzus argues that the Spirit is God and consubstantial because he is God. He supports his claims with the testimony about the spirits character being the spirit of God and of Christ. He points out the cooperation in redemption and churches devotional activities. He brings to being the recognition of the spirit as God as one who lives in people and reveals or discloses God’s divine nature clearly to men (OlSon, 1999). He went further to describe the relevance of the trinity to human beings through the spirit as he lives in our hearts to demonstrate the existence of God.
Schleiermacher viewed the trinity as irrelevant as it could not be proven scientifically. To him, Trinitarian theology was based on speculation that could not be verified or substantiated. He understood the trinity as a manmade way of man trying to make sense of the existence of God through self-consciousness. He believed that man would only search within himself to get an objective understanding of God and not through a speculative Trinitarian theology (OlSon, 1999).
Like Schleirmacher, Thomas Kempis also rejected the Trinitarian theology on the basis that it did not have a salvific relationship. He stated that the trinity theology was just but a way of creating an academic field of study on knowing God. He indicated that human beings would observe historical happenings to learn about God’s character on virtues such as peace, humility and obedience. He claimed that the trinity was not vital for human beings to establish a relationship with God. Rather, their observations about the nature of God would draw them into desiring that relationship. He unlike Schleiermacher did not believe that intellect had anything to do with knowledge of God rather historical observation was (OlSon, 1999).
Sarah Coakley adopts the social approach for understanding the trinity. Unlike the Gregory of Nyassa’s model of unity of the trinity, Sarah’s social model illuminates the nature of cooperation in the trinity. She indicates that there is a difference in unity by nature and unity by operation. She noted that the Father, Son and Spirit work together although the Father begins all the operations which proceed to the Son and then the spirit perfects the Father’s work (Phan, 2011).
Epiphanius of Constantia Trinitarian theology states that the Father, Son and Spirit exist in one substance with the Holy Spirit being sent out to the people that deserve to receive him. Sabellianism depicts that God acts differently at different times in history. There are three different actions carried out by one same God whereby the Father is the creator, the Son the redeemer and the spirit the sanctifier (McGrath, 2011). This is almost similar to Coakley’s view other than the flow of activities is undefined.
Anselm of Canterbury viewed God as with an Aristotelian concept that entails God being preoccupied with himself and not having a relationship with people as other theologians believed. He indicates that God is only concerned with himself, does not love or care about human beings. He described that human beings feel Gods compassion from God although God is not compassionate for us (Deme, 2003).
Richard of St. Victor argues that God exist in three persons and that for love to be perfect, it must be shared with other persons and that love existing between two persons is done for the sake of a third person for it to be perfect love. God’s love is perfect and for it to exist, it must be among three persons. His idea places emphasis on the mutual love and equality of the three persons (Hunt, 2010). This view points more towards showing the usefulness of the trinity for human beings. It seems to connote that human beings should emulate God’s perfect love in their interactions with each other.
Leonardo Boff views on trinity depict that it is good news for the poor. It is good news for those that are oppressed and those that are condemned to being alone. Since human beings know little about Jesus, they view him as a liberator of the poor and the oppressed by dying on the cross to allow them access to the Kingdom of God (Hunt, 2010). This just like Richards view tries to bring usefulness of the trinity to human beings by indicating that they have a hope of being liberated from their poverty and oppression by Jesus.
Robert Jenson argues that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit refer to one God that is known by Christians through Jesus Christ. Trinitarian theology allows for Christians to make sense of God and distinguish Him from other gods. He indicates that it is of higher priority for Christians to acquire a self- revelation of God rather than seek to understand human constructs about divinity concepts. He emphasizes the importance of the resurrection in informing human beings knowledge of God (Gunton, 2011).
Walter Kasper argues that trinity is equivalent to salvation where the Son works for human beings and the spirit works in them to fulfil the Father’s will. He contends that theology is unable to reach a full understanding of God through confession of the trinity. He connotes that trinity exists to give glory to God by which human beings are saved. To him, the purpose of the trinity lies is its saving power (McMichael, 2006).
Paul Jewett argues brings out the issue non-inclusive language within Trinitarian theology and states that it would be possible to hypothetically speak about God in female terms. He points out that God the savior assumed humanity as a male and not a female and that the women are justified to complain that the traditional view about the language of God is biased. It places women at a second class level in importance as members of God’s family (McGrath, 2011).
Most of the earliest ages’ theologies were more concerned about the relationship about the three trinity persons. Some focused on trying to understand whether the trinity did really exist or it is just a human construct based on intellect. Others were particularly concerned about the roles of the three persons while those in the Middle Ages began to get more concerned about how the trinity relates to human beings. The more recent theology began to concentrate on other mild and specific issues about the trinity such as love, compassion, gender of the trinity and salvation.
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Farrelly, J. (2005). The Trinity; Rediscovering the Central Christian Mystery. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.
Fitzgerald, A., & Cavadini, J. C. (1999). Augustine Through the Ages. Grandrapids, Michigan: Wim B. Eerdmans Publishing.
Gunton, C. E. (2011). Trinity, Time and Church: A Response to the Theology of Robert W. JenSon. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers.
Hunt, A. (2010). The Trinity: Insights form the Mystics. Collegeview, MN: Liturgical Press.
McGrath, A. E. (2011). Theology: The Basics. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
McMichael, R. N. (2006). Walter Kasper’s Response to Mordern Atheism. Bern: Peter Lang.
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Phan, P. C. (2011). The Cambridge Companion to the Trinity. New York: Cengage Learning.