Christian God and the Holy Trinity

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In the West, the Jewish God is known as Jehovah. Jehovah is English for the Hebrew word Yahweh, which is more properly known as YHWH. The pronunciation of YHWH has been lost. It word is believed to mean "he who causes things to be" and in Biblical times was so holy that no one was allowed to say it except for the highest-level priests in important ceremonies.

The Jews did not attempt to pronounce YHWH. It was too holy. Instead they said “HaShem” , the “name.” The famous rabbi Haninina ben Teradion was reportedly tortured to death for uttering the "unutterable." The use of the word Lord to describe God came into usage in part so believers didn’t have to use the word God. The name Jehovah, coined in the Middle Ages, was not used in the Hebrew Bible.

The source of our information about God is the Old Testament, which is largely ascribed to Moses. In the early passages of the Old Testament, God is referred to by several names including El Shaddai, which some scholars say signifies a storm god or god of power, and El 'Elyon. In Exodus 3:14 he reveals his true name to be Yahweh (YHVH, Jehovah). El Shaddai means "God of the Mountain." El 'Elyon means "God Most High."

In classical texts God was regarded as unknowable: “Thou can not See My Face.” Until the Kabbalists came along Jews accepted that description and did not dwell much on the matter.

Geoffrey Parrinder wrote in “World Religions”, "The dilemma of the Hebrew is not the question whether God exists, or why he exists, but rather how he acts in the world, and what he requires of people. The natural world is a manifestation of God's glory...The God of the Bible is both a remote transcendent being, imposing his awe upon the universe, demanding absolute obedience...and also a loving and compassionate father, who has a close personal relationship with those who revere him." [“World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder, Facts on File Publications, New York]

Book: “God: A Biography” by Jack Miles.

Websites and Resources: Christianity Britannica on Christianity ; History of Christianity ; BBC on Christianity ;Wikipedia article on Christianity Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance ; Christian Answers ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library ; Bible: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible ; King James Version of the Bible ;

Early Christianity: Elaine Pagels website ; Sacred Texts website ; Gnostic Society Library ; PBS Frontline From Jesus to Christ, The First Christians ; Guide to Early Church Documents; Early Christian Writing ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins ; Early Christian Art ; Early Christian Images ; Early Christian and Byzantine Images

God Early in the Bible

God, the Architect
At the beginning of the Hebrew Bible, after the Creation, God resembles a local pagan deity. The poet Stephen Mitchell described him as a "jealous, bungling, punitive god, not the god we can love with all our hearts and soul." In the Old Testament, God often displayed extreme bouts of anger whenever humanity disappointed him, especially by sinning with sex. In addition to wiping out entire nations of sinners, God also killed a lot of animals who had done nothing wrong. Many scenes involving God's anger have been edited out of the children's versions of the stories.

In his unorthodox introduction to the Bible, the bestselling British author Louis de Bernieres wrote: "There are many episodes in the Bible that show God in a very bad light...and one cannot but conclude from them either that God is a mad, bloodthirsty and capricious despot, or that all this time we have inadvertently worshipped the Devil."

Much of God’s anger is directed at people who continue to worship other Gods. After God sees the Israelites with the golden calf which they began worshipping while Moses was on Mt. Sinai, God says: "Now let me be, that my anger may blaze forth against them and I may destroy them, and make you a great nation." Over the course of the early Bible, God changes from a being that urges his followers to dash the heads of their enemies? babies on rocks to the god in Isaiah that tells them to love their enemies. In the beginning of the Old Testament, God is quite busy and present. He shows up at the Garden of Eden, speaks to Abraham and Moses and even wrestles around with Jacob. As the Bible progresses he appears and speaks less and less until he virtually disappears.

In the New Testament God is regarded as beyond description. According to John 4:12: “No one has ever seen God.”

Christian Beliefs About God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost

According to the BBC: “Christian beliefs concerning God: 1) There is only one God; 2) God is a Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; 3) God is perfect; 4) God is omnipotent; 5) God is everywhere; 6) God knows everything; 7) God created the universe; 8) God keeps the universe going; 9) God intervenes in the universe; 10 ) God loves everyone unconditionally (though people have to comply with various conditions in order to achieve salvation); 11) Human beings can get to know God through prayer, worship, love, and mystical experiences; 12) Human beings can get to know God through God's grace - that is through his love and his power |::|

In Christian art the Holy Spirit is often by a glowing dove

God the Son: 1) God lived on earth as Jesus; 2) Jesus was both wholly God and wholly human Jesus was born to a human woman, Mary, but conceived of the Holy Spirit; 3) Because Jesus was wholly human he was subject to pain, suffering, and sorrow like other human beings; 4) Jesus was executed by crucifixion but rose from the dead at the Resurrection; 5) Jesus's life provides a perfect example of how God wants people to live; 6) Jesus died on the Cross so that those who believe in him will be forgiven all their sins

God the Holy Spirit 1) After the Resurrection, Jesus remained on earth for only a few days before going up into Heaven Jesus promised that he would stay with his followers, so after he went to Heaven he sent his Spirit to guide them The Holy Spirit continues to guide, comfort, and encourage Christians |::|

Holy Ghost (Holy Spirit)

Christians believe that after Jesus’s Ascension to heaven, God entered the church as the Holy Spirit and has stayed there ever since. The Acts of the Apostles describes the arrival of Holy Spirit at a meeting of the disciples: “Suddenly there came from heaven a sound as if it where a violent wind...and there appeared to them tongues as of fire, these separated and came to rest on the head of each of them.” The Holy Spirit gave the disciples the ability to speak a number of different languages, allowing them to spread the words of God and Jesus, and thus ushering in the Christian era. This is regarded as the day of the inception of the Christian church.

The Holy Spirit was introduced in the early Christian era. It did not exist in the religion of the Jews. It was articulated by Paul as spirit of god left behind by Christ and something that Christiana instinctively tune into and follow in living an ordinary, dutiful Christian life.

Holy Trinity and Holy Ghost

Christians believe that God manifests himself through the Holy Trinity: Father (God), Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Ghost (or Holy Spirit). Resolving the Holy Trinity with the doctrine of monotheism took centuries and tricky metaphysical maneuvering to work out and was a divisive issue in the early days of Christianity and remains something that many ordinary people can’t comprehend.

Through the concept of the Holy Trinity the Father (God) remains something that exist outside of our world in a kind of parallel universe, while Jesus was a divine man who came to earth and departed and the Holy Ghost is a facade of God that remains with us in the world, in our universe.

he Trinity: Father (right), son (left) and Holy Ghost (top)

According to the BBC: “A difficult but fundamental concept within Christianity, the Trinity is the belief that God is three separate persons but is still a single God. Christianity adopted this complicated idea of God because it was the only way they could make sense of One God in the context of the events and teaching of the Bible. The idea of the Trinity does not supersede monotheism; it interprets it, in the light of a specific set of revelatory events and experiences. [Source: BBC, July 21, 2011 |::|]

“The core belief : The doctrine of the Trinity is the Christian belief that: There is One God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Other ways of referring to the Trinity are the Triune God and the Three-in-One. The Trinity is a controversial doctrine; many Christians admit they don't understand it, while many more Christians don't understand it but think they do. [Source: BBC, July 21, 2011 |::|]

“In fact, although they'd be horrified to hear it, many Christians sometimes behave as if they believe in three Gods and at other times as if they believe in one. Trinity Sunday, which falls on the first Sunday after Pentecost, is one of the few feasts in the Christian calendar that celebrate a doctrine rather than an event. |::|

“A fundamental doctrine: The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most difficult ideas in Christianity, but it's fundamental to Christians because it: 1) states what Christians believe God is like and who he is; 2) plays a central part in Christians' worship of an "unobjectifiable and incomprehensible God"; 3) emphasises that God is very different from human beings; 4) reflects the ways Christians believe God encounters them; 5) is a central element of Christian identity; 6) teaches Christians vital truths about relationship and community; 7) reveals that God can be seen only as a spiritual experience whose mystery inspires awe and cannot be understood logically |::|

The idea that there is One God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit means: 1) There is exactly one God; 2) The Father is God; 3) The Son is God; 4) The Holy Spirit is God; 5) The Father is not the Son; 6) The Son is not the Holy Spirit; 7) The Father is not the Holy Spirit. An alternate way of explaining it is: A) There is exactly one God; B) There are three really distinct Persons - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; C) Each of the Persons is God |::|

20120508-Trinity BorromeanRings-Trinity 2.jpg
Trinity, represented by the Borromean Rings
“Common mistakes: The Trinity is not: 1) Three individuals who together make one God; 2) Three Gods joined together; 3) Three properties of God. |::|

Scripture and the Trinity

According to the BBC: “For obvious reasons the Trinity is not referred to in the Old Testament, although many writers think that the Old Testament does drop heavy hints about it - for example when it uses a plural Hebrew noun to refer to God. The New Testament of the Bible never explicitly refers to the Trinity as such, but it does contain a number of references to the Economic Trinity: 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 grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. — 2 Corinthians 13:14 [Source: BBC, July 21, 2011 |::|]

“One text that is often quoted to provide scriptural authority for the doctrine of the Trinity is now thought to have been added to the text much later, and with the specific purpose of justifying the doctrine. For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one The mystery of the Trinity: (1+1+1=1) = Nonsense! This idea that three persons add up to one individual seems like nonsense. And logically, it is. |::|

“So Christians don't try to understand the doctrine of the Trinity logically or as a problem of arithmetic. Unfortunately most other attempts to explain the Trinity don't really capture the concept either, or are very difficult to understand. |::|

Why the Trinity is Important

According to the BBC: “Before trying to understand the doctrine of the Trinity, it's vital to realise why it's important. Its purpose is not to provide factual knowledge of God's hidden nature of the sort that describes a dog as "having 4 legs, fur, barks, bites, domesticated by humankind etc". [Source: BBC, July 21, 2011 |::|]

one view of the Trinity

“The doctrine of the Trinity has other functions: 1) it brings humanity face to face with the mystery of God; 2) it helps humanity recognise the God they meet in the Bible, in history and in their own lives; 3) it helps humanity understand God's complexity, otherness and mystery; 4) it helps humanity worship God; 5) it steers humanity away from wrong ideas of God, such as a patriarchal/hierarchical God; 6) a God who can be logically understood; 7) it is the foundation of much Christian worship and liturgy; 8) it helps humanity understand its own nature as made in the image of God; 9) it provides a model for human relationships, both as individuals and in community |::|]

“So, for example, one might be inspired by the doctrine of the Trinity to come up with an understanding of human relationships that was something like this...Human beings are made in the image of God. God is a community of persons in a mutual loving relationship. Therefore the essence of humanity is to be found in human relationships with others, with God, and with God's creation. These relationships are filled with transforming power. For human beings to live truly in the image of God, these relationships must be mutual, generous and just. These relationships must acknowledge and value difference as well as sameness. These relationships must accept as well as give. |::|

“That's one way in which contemplating the Trinity might provide useful information for a Christian as to how they should try to live their life.

Trinity and Worship

According to the BBC: “Christian worship is inherently Trinitarian. Christians worship God in the presence of Christ and with the Holy Spirit within them. So for example: 1) Worship and praise are offered "to God through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit"; 2) Blessings are given "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit", the sign of the Cross is a Trinitarian gesture; 3) The creed, the fundamental statement of Christian belief, sets out the Trinitarian nature of God. 4) Baptism is carried out "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit". [Source: BBC, July 21, 2011 |::|]

Eucharistic prayers are firmly Trinitarian in concept. The traditional doxology is Trinitarian:
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
World without end. Amen

Trinitarian doxology
Many hymns are explicitly Trinitarian, such as this one:
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee;
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity! |::|

Or this:
I bind unto myself today
the strong name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three. |::|

Or this:
Firmly I believe and truly
God is Three, and God is One;
and I next acknowledge duly
manhood taken by the Son.
Or this modern classic
Shine, Jesus, shine,
fill this land with the Father's glory;
blaze, Spirit, blaze,
set our hearts on fire. |::|

God’s Role in the Trinity

According to the BBC: “Humanity met God in three different forms: 1) God the Father: revealed by the Old Testament to be Creator, Lord, Father and Judge; 2) God the Son: who had lived on earth amongst human beings; 3) God the Holy Spirit: who filled them with new life and power [Source: BBC, July 21, 2011 |::|]
The Bible taught that Christians were to worship Father and Son and Holy Spirit. It also taught that Christians should only worship God. Finally, it taught that there was only one God: 1) We must worship only God; 2) We must worship God the Father; 3) We must worship God the Son; 4) We must worship God the Holy Spirit; 5) There is only one God. This seemed to put Christians in an impossible position from which they were rescued by the doctrine of the Trinity, which solved the puzzle by stating that God must be simultaneously both Three and One.::

“One way out of the problem” — of adequately explaining the Trinity —“ is to say that God is not like human beings and human beings get in a mess when they try to describe God using the same sort of language and understanding that they use to describe other human beings. But human beings don't have any other language available, so they have to do the best that they can with it. That's fine, as long as they remember that the whole truth of the nature of God is simply beyond them. “So the doctrine of the Trinity only attempts to provide a rudimentary sketch of the mystery of God's nature, rather than a full description of what God is like. God is a mystery, before which humanity should stand in awe.” |::|

Is the Trinity a Useful Idea?

Holy Spirit

According to the BBC: Until quite recently, many theologians thought that the doctrine of the Trinity was pretty pointless. And the churches themselves disagree about the content of the doctrine; the most common Western statement of the Trinity is not accepted by the Eastern churches. |::|

“Immanuel Kant wrote in Der Streit der Fakultätencite:“The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is not just an abstract belief, but something that has real practical use for those who believe it. Absolutely nothing worthwhile for the practical life can be made out of the doctrine of the Trinity taken literally. Karen Kilby said: The doctrine of the Trinity so easily appears to be an intellectual puzzle with no relevance to the faith of most Christians.”

Gerald S. Sloyan wrote in “The Three Persons in One God” (1964): “And yet somehow it remains at the heart of the Christian faith: It is impossible to overemphasise the importance of the Christian doctrine that God is one in three persons. This has correctly been called the teaching distinctive of the Christian faith, that which sets the approach of Christians to the "fearful mystery" of the deity apart from all other approaches.”

The Trinity as a Lesson to Christians

The Trinity expresses the way Christians should relate to God: 1) worship God the Father follow the example set by God the Son; 2) God the Holy Spirit lives in them [Source: BBC, July 21, 2011 |::|]

The Trinity as a recipe for life: The doctrine of the Trinity teaches human beings how they should shape their lives. Many Christians see the relationship between the persons of the Trinity as providing a recipe for the best sort of human relationships. These are relationships in which individuality is balanced with relationship; relationships whose basis is mutual love and perfect communication. |::|

“The relationship that exists within the Godhead is the basis for unity in every human relationship, be it marriage, family, or church. — Patrick Henry Reardon | The American theologian Catherine LaCugna suggested that the doctrine of the Trinity helps humanity answer the question How are we to live and relate to others so as to be most Godlike? She suggested that the Trinity taught: a theology of relationship, which explores the mysteries of love, relationship, personhood and community within the framework of God's self-revelation in the person of Christ and the activity of the Spirit. And the key teaching within this doctrine of relationship is that the best relationships are those of equality and mutuality. |::|

Social Implications of the Trinity

According to the BBC: “The Trinity as a power structure The relationships within God as a Trinity discredit any hierarchical power structure in which those lower down are dominated and oppressed by those above them. Instead, using the example of the Trinity leads to an ideal structure of mutual interdependence and support in pursuit of a common aim. [Source: BBC, July 21, 2011 |::|]

“Thus the Trinity shows the way God wants the world to be run and the power structures that he recommends to human society. This seems to contradict the traditional idea of God as one Supreme Being, Lord of all, but should be seen as demonstrating the non-hierarchical nature of God in himself, without diminishing God's status in relationship to others. |::|

“This idea can be developed in Church life: 1) in the hierarchical model power and authority in the church flow in one direction from God, through senior and junior clergy, down to the lay people; 2) in the Trinitarian model there is a church of mutual self-giving and equality that emulates the community of the Trinity. 3) In this the members communicate with each other in a spirit of love that accepts responsibility for the well-being of each individual and that of the whole community. 4) In this way the Church, and each church and community become a unity in which diversity flourishes and in which differences are seen as valuable and essential elements in the substance of these institutions.

Trinitarian Heresies

“Some theories of the Trinity are so wrong that they have been declared heretical. 1) Modalism The proponents of Modalism were Noetus and Praxeas (late 2nd century CE) and Sabellius (3rd century CE). Modalism teaches that Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not distinct personalities, but different modes of God's self-revelation. The idea is that there is only one God, but that this one God reveals himself in different ways and different forms - sometimes as Father, sometimes as Son, sometimes as Holy Spirit: “Father: The creator and the law giver Son: The revealer, the Messiah and the redeemer; Holy Spirit: The sanctifier and giver of eternal life. [Source: BBC, July 21, 2011 |::|]

“One of the standard analogies for the Trinity is a good example of modalism: The Trinity is like water because water comes in three forms - ice, water, steam. This is Modalism because these are three states or modes of the substance water.Some modalists believe that God revealed himself differently at different times in history, others believe that during any particular period of history God can reveal himself in different ways; so when God is acting as redeemer, that's God the Son, and so on. Some modern writers refer to the different persons of the Trinity as different "modes of being", but they aren't guilty of Modalism because they are not referring to different modes in which God appears to humanity, but different internal ways in which God is to him/herself. |::|

“Tritheism: Tritheism portrays Father, Son and Holy Spirit as three independent divine beings; three separate gods who are linked together in some special way - most commonly by sharing the "same substance" or being the same sort of thing. People often make this mistake because they misunderstand the use of the word "persons" in defining the Trinity; it does not mean that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three separate personalities. |::|

“Partialism This is the idea that Father, Son and Holy Spirit together make up God. This would suggest that each of the persons of the Trinity is only part God, only becoming fully God when they are together. Monarchianism stresses God as One and downgrades the idea of the Trinity; it comes in various versions: According to Adoptionism beliefs Christ was born human and adopted by God at his resurrection (or baptism). Arianism isn't a strictly Trinitarian heresy but it's relevant because it's the idea that the Son is in some way less fully God than the Father. |::|

Catholic, Orthodox Dispute Over a Single Word: Filioque

According to the BBC: “Can you believe that the Christian Church fell apart over a single word? Well it's true: The greatest row in the history of Christianity centred on a single word filioque and on the doctrine of the Trinity. The row split the Eastern Church, which mostly became the Orthodox Church, and the Western Church, which became the Roman Catholic Church and its later Protestant offshoots. There were other matters at issue as well, but the row over "the filioque clause" led to the Great Schism of 1054. [Source: BBC, July 21, 2011 |::|]

“What the row was about? The Churches were arguing about whether the Son played any part in the origin of the Spirit as one of the persons of the Trinity from the Father, who is the only ultimate source. The Latin word filioque, which means "and from the son", was gradually inserted by Western churches into the Nicene Creed so that it stated that the Holy Spirit proceeds not from the God the Father alone, as the early Church Fathers believed, but from both God the Father and God the Son. The Eastern wing of the Church believed and believes that the Father alone had given rise to the Holy Spirit, and the idea that both Father and Son had done so was condemned as heretical. |::|

“Even today, the creed used by the Eastern Churches professes faith "in the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father," without mentioning the Filioque. The Western Churches (i.e. the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches) expressly say that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son." |::|

“There were fundamental problems of authority as well as of doctrine. The Eastern wing of the Church was angry that the Western wing of the Church had altered a fundamental part of the creed without their agreement - indeed without even consulting them. This didn't seem to them like the behaviour of a united church, and so the two wings eventually went their separate ways.Many church historians think that the Western wing of the Church did behave very badly by trying to introduce such a major change to Christian belief in such a cavalier way.” |::|

Doctrine of 'Dual Procession'

According to the BBC: “This is the name that theologians give to the idea that the Spirit proceeds from both Father and Son. Proceeds? When Christians say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father (and the Son), what do they mean, and why do they use such an odd word? The word comes from the Greek text of John 15.26, which speaks of the one "who proceeds (ekporeuetai) from the Father". The Greek word has the sense of movement out of, and early theologians used it to show that the Spirit's origin was within the person of the Father. [Source: BBC, July 21, 2011 |::|]


“Greek theologians restricted this Greek word to this particular technical use - the coming forth of the Spirit from the Father - so that it has a unique reference to the relationship of the Father and the Spirit. The Greek theologians also thought that the way in which the Spirit comes from the Father is similar to, but significantly different from, the way the Son comes from the Father.

The equivalent Latin word is "procedure", but unlike the Greek word it doesn't include the notion of a starting point within something; it's a more general word for movement. This different meaning may have contributed in a small way to the dispute. Latin theologians taught that the Spirit comes from both the Father and the Son, but comes from each of them in significantly different ways. These differences do not diminish the Father's role as the only cause of everything that exists. |::|

“The arguments in the dispute are highly technical, and seem pretty dull to anyone except a theologian - but they stirred hugely passionate debates in the church because they were about something that mattered terribly: the nature of God. To get a flavour of the passion the debate aroused, look at this comment from a 9th century Patriarch: ...dishonourable men emerged out of the darkness (that is, the West), and poured down like hail or, better, charged like wild boars upon the newly-planted vineyard of the Lord, destroying it with hoof and tusk, which is to say, by their shameful lives and corrupted dogmas. — Encyclical to the Eastern Patriarchs |::|

“Here are some of the arguments that were used by each side. Against the filioque clause; 1) The nature of God the Father is to be the sole cause of everything; 2) God the Father is the "First Person of the Trinity" because he gives existence to everything else; 3 ) Giving life to others is what it means to be a father, it is not what it means to be a son; 4) Jesus said only that the Spirit proceeds from the Father; 5) But when the Counsellor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me. — John 15:26; 6) The idea that the Spirit proceeds from Father and Son detracts from the separate character of each person of the Trinity, and confuses their relationships; 7) The idea that the Spirit proceeds from the Son as well as the Father diminishes the status of God the Father |::|

“In favour of the filioque clause: 1) Jesus did not say that the Spirit only proceeds from the Father; 2) The Creed and the Bible say that the Son does give life to others: A) All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. — John 1:3; B) “Jesus said that the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son; C) Jesus said to them again, "Peace be unto you. As the Father has sent me, even so send I you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit" — John 20:21-3 |::|; )

The Trinity

“If the Spirit and the Son both proceed only from the Father, then there is no internal distinction between them in the Godhead (as opposed to their action on Earth). The Spirit is the bond of love that unites Father and Son - this bond must proceed from both |::|

“The Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and Son as from a single principle In modern times the Eastern and Western churches have moved closer together. In December 1965 Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople revoked the excommunications of 1054 and called for an active pursuit of mutual understanding. |::|

Appropriation and Perichoresis

According to the BBC: “Appropriation and Perichoresis are two ideas that are important in reconciling God's one-ness with the three-ness of God in human experience. Appropriation teaches that all three persons of the Trinity do everything God does, but that it is appropriate to see some actions as being particularly associated with one specific person of the Trinity. So the Father is associated with creation and the Son with redemption, but all three persons are actually involved with these actions. [Source: BBC, July 21, 2011 |::|]

“Perichoresis is a Greek word that means permeation without confusion.. This is the idea that each of the persons of the Trinity shares completely in the life of the other two. Theologians say that each of the persons of the Trinity "interpenetrates" the others, so that the distinctions between the persons are preserved and the substance of God is not divided into three. The theologian Leonardo Boff described perichoresis as "the intimate and perfect inhabitation of one Person in the other," meaning that the three persons of the Trinity live in and relate to each other perfectly. |::|

“Many modern writers prefer to use the word indwelling to express the idea of perichoresis. They say there is a mutual indwelling of the persons of the Trinity. Other words for the same thing are coinherence and circuminsessio. All facets of divine activity are reflected in all three persons of the Trinity. They are dynamically intermingled. They may not be separated. — Richard B. Hays |::|


According to the BBC: “Persons is a theological word that answers the question "Three what?" The traditional statement of the doctrine of the Trinity is this: There are three persons within the Godhead; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These three persons have equal status and are equally divine. But the word person in this definition doesn't mean person in any sense that modern people understand it - it's an ancient technical philosophical term, which originally meant the mask worn by actors playing parts in an ancient Greek play. [Source: BBC, July 21, 2011 |::|]

“The Greek word was hypostases (the singular term is hypostasis). The ancient writers said that there were three distinct hypostases in one ousia (ousia is the word now translated as substance - see below.) There's a hint here of a very important concept in the idea of the Trinity. Actors playing a part in a play do so in relationship to other members of the cast, and a key element of the doctrine of the Trinity is that the three persons of the Trinity are in relationship with one another. |::|

“But "person" to modern people means, at the very least, a separate centre of consciousness, and more usually, an individual human being. That is not what it means in the definition of the Trinity. The idea that the three persons of the Trinity are separate individuals is the heresy of tritheism. Unfortunately, modern theological translations of the word "persons" into phrases such as "distinct manners of subsisting" don't make things much clearer (and that particular phrase, as it happens, sounds very like the heresy of modalism). |::|

“Procession is used to describe the coming forth of one of the persons of the Trinity from another (or from both the others). The use of this word in statements of the Trinity is a reminder that there is movement and dynamic energy in the Christian concept of God. Substance is the theological word that answers the question "One what?" It comes from the Greek word ousia, which means "beingness", but it has a more restricted meaning in this context than it had had to the ancient Greek philosophers who coined the word. A substance is a thing which fully exists; a presence in the universe - so for example, a dog is a substance. Although in the case of God this is not a substance made of matter. The key concept of substance is that of unity - it's not separate from the three persons of the Trinity, it's what makes them one. |::|

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons except Modalism chart from Expository Thought

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible,; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), translated by William Whiston, , Metropolitan Museum of Art, Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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