The Triune God

 

At first glance, the Christian doctrine of God as a trinity seems to appear to have been first cooked up as a way of defending the divinity of Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit just thrown in the mix for good measure or to somehow even things out. Indeed, in more recent times, those who have questioned the divinity of Christ have generally gone on to question the idea of God as a trinity as well. However, when one examines the actual history of human thought about the nature of God, this apparent connection shows a couple of weak links.

 

For one, how explain that the philosopher Plato, nearly five centuries before the time of Christ, also thought of God as being threefold or triple in aspect as pure Being, self-thought Thought, and the life-giving Soul of all things? Or that the Hindu thinker Śankara also describes Brahmanthe ultimate realityas Sat (pure Being), Chit (pure consciousness) and Ananda (pure bliss).

 

Perhaps Sankara (8th. Century AD/CE) got the insight from reading Plato or maybe picked up some trinitarian ideas from the Malabar Coast Christians, but I think it is more likely that perhaps the explanation lies deep in the structure of the human mind itself. It was Augustine, playing with the biblical idea of humans made "in the image and likeness of God", who saw in humans with their faculties of memory, reason, and will, the counterparts of Father, Son and Spirit. Or it is just the other way around, and we are simply projecting on God the structure of our own minds?

 

However I think is something more than that. If as Plato (and after him Aristotle) saw God primarily as the origin or self-existent Being (the primal or uncaused cause) in itself, it stands to reason that all else that exists is an expression or "Word" of that primal Cause. Or to take things one step further in the evolution of the universe, all that that has life is in some sense sharing in the outpouring of God's own lifewhich in the Hebrew bible was described as God's own breath or "spirit".

 

So while none of this proves that Jesus himself was divineone has to read the gospels (I'd recommend beginning with the first three) and draw ones own conclusions. From there it is easy to see how the author of the fourth gospel came to the conclusion that Jesus, as the most divinely human (or should we say humanly divine?) person who ever lived, begins by describing him as the human embodiment of that divine wisdom or "Word" through whom the universe itself was made and then goes on, by means of a kind of theological drama, in which Jesus plays the lead role, to expound all that God had in mind.

Seen from this perspective I would suggest that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, while it took shape a century or so later than the gospels, came not from an attempt to "divinize" Jesus, but rather to explain him in terms of what had already been, for some centuries, humanity's deepest philosophical insights into the nature of God.

R W Kropf 7/23/06

 

 

Triune.mss (530 words) 06-07-23.html