The Trinity is one of the important doctrines
of classical Christian theology in which God is depicted as being manifest in
"three persons:" God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three persons,
but one God.
This concept of the triune God emerged in the third
and fourth centuries (C.E.) as leaders of the church attempted to communicate
a faith that had arisen within first century Judaism into a new language and a
very different culture: that of the hellenized Greco-Roman world, several hundred
years after the time of Christ.
Jews and Muslims, in particular,
are troubled by the Trinity because it appears that in this notion of "the
one in three," Christians have abandoned monotheism and have, in fact, exchanged
the One God for many. Some Christians share these concerns about the Trinity,
most notably, Unitarians and Universalists. Several of the "founding fathers"
of the United States, including Thomas Jefferson, shared this concern.
The classic and brief statement of the Trinitarian faith is, of course, the
Nicene Creed, which bears the name of the Council of Nicea (325 C.E.), but
was not approved until the Council of Constantinople (381 C.E.).
The intensity of the debate over how to define the Trinity was one of the presenting
issues that resulted in the split between Roman Catholic and Orthodox
Vigorous discussion of the doctrine continues.
It should be noted that the doctrine of the Trinity does not
appear in, nor is taught by the Bible. Rather, theologians have woven the doctrine
out of various words and phrases in the Bible.
Some have suggested,
and I tend to agree, that rather that conveying deep truth about the nature of
God, the trinity may be best understood as an expression of the way in which Christians
have experienced God since the time of Christ.
Like Jews and Muslims,
Christians experience God, of course, as the Creator, the source of all. By contrast
to the experience of Jews and Muslims, however, Christians place Jesus at the
very heart and center of their faith, affirming out of their experience of Jesus
that he is not just another teacher or prophet, rather he is the unique expression
of God as love. Because the love of God was so perfectly expressed in the life,
death and resurrection of Jesus, Christians affirm that Jesus was and is divine.
Returning to the point where there is considerable agreement between
Christians, Muslims and Jews ... Christians also affirm that God is Spirit, not
just the first cause and Creator of the world, but a living presence, who is active
in the here and now.
In Christian worship, the sacraments are the
unique rituals in which the Spirit is experienced most powerfully, but Christians
also find evidence of the Spirit in personal relationships, in nature, in music,
in the arts, and in the activity of daily life. The Spirit is God's creative presence
in the world.
Bottom line: While rational explanations of
it have never been fully satisfying, and while confusion and sometimes controversy
about the doctrine continue, Christians persist in thinking of God as being know
to them in three forms: As powerful Creator, as a redeeming and loving person,
Jesus Christ, and as a living and active presence in their lives which could be
nothing less than Spirit Divine. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Or in a more contemporary
paraphrase: God, the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all.
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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and author of Faith, Science and the Future, published in 1994 by CrossCurrents Press. He is also the author of God and Science (John Knox / Westminster, 1986) which he is now rewriting to incorporate more recent developments in the conversation taking place between scientists and theologians. He has also written widely for such publications as The New York Times, The Nation, Commonweal, The Christian Century and others.