Trinity Sunday — Church Calendar
Skeptics abound regarding the idea of Trinity desiring a perfect understanding before believing but they forget or never knew the Augustinian dictum that we believe in order to understand and not we understand in order to believe. We are not shy to say that we do not fully understand the depth of the idea of God as Trinity. Ask yourself if any God would be worth worshiping that you or any human could perfectly circumscribe with our human understanding? Would God be God if the human mind could comprehend Him perfectly?
But, while we admit that man cannot comprehensively understand God, we do not suggest that God can not be rightly apprehended or understood with the measure of grace we have been given consistent with God’s Revelation in Scripture. We can be knowing God and so go from knowing unto greater knowing but we will never exhaustively know God since the finite cannot contain the infinite. As such we can know that God is one in three and three in one due to the Revelation of Scripture, and as we grow in the faith we can have ever fuller understanding of what that means but, as mortals, we will never comprehend the essence or mind of God.
SCRIPTURAL TEXT TEACHING THE REALITY OF THE TRINITY
(a) Deut.6:4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: Eph.4:6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. Isa.44:6 Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. Isa.45:5 I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: 1 Cor.8:4 As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. 1 Cor.8:6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.
(b) Isa.61:1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; Luke 4:18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, Gen.1:2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. Gen.1:3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. Ps.33:6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. Isa.48:16 Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord GOD, and his Spirit, hath sent me. Ps.110:1 <> The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. Matt.3:16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: Matt.3:17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Matt.28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 1 John 5:7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. Isa.6:1 In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Isa.6:3 And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. John 14:26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. John 15:26 But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: 2 Cor.13:13 All the saints salute you. Gal.4:6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Eph.2:18 For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Tit.3:5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Tit.3:6 Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;
The Scripture thus clearly teaches that there is unity and plurality in the being of God.
TRINITY IN CHURCH HISTORY
The doctrine of the Trinity reached a swelling point in the fourth century, when Arius claimed that Christ was created by God the Father, and was not co-eternal with him. Eventually, the Council of Nicea was convened to address Arius’ claims. Led in part by St. Athanasius, who suffered terrible persecution for his advocacy for the Deity of Christ, found Arius’ claims heretical and formulated the Nicene Creed to discredit and correct them. For the next 100 years, Church Fathers would defend the doctrine of the Trinity from Arian challenges that still existed. Yet, by about the end of the fourth century, the doctrine of the Trinity took on, more or less, the form that we have today.
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made….
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
Athenasian Creed declares in part,
‘but this is the catholic faith, that we worship one God in trinity, and trinity in unity, neither confounding the persons nor diving the substance, for the person of the Father is one, of the Son, another, of the Holy Spirit, another. But the divinity of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost is one, and the glory equal, the majesty equal, such as is the Father, such also is the Son, and such the Holy Spirit. The Father is uncreated, the Son is uncreated, the Holy Spirit is uncreated. The Father is infinite, the Son is infinite, the Holy Ghost is infinite. The Father is eternal, the Son is eternal, the Holy Ghost is eternal. And yet there are not three eternal beings but one eternal being. As also there are not three uncreated beings nor three infinite beings, but one uncreated and one infinite being.’
IMPORTANCE OF TRINITY
In this point I am going to try and convince you how important the Church through the ages viewed the doctrine of the Trinity.
Rushdoony, gives us a quote that encapsulates the view of the Church throughout History on the importance of the Trinity.
“The doctrine of the Trinity is that basic foundation for all of faith, for the whole universe…
“The Trinity is the cornerstone of our faith. No faith can survive its denial. No church can live long apart from this doctrine. And no church, no matter how much it preaches other important and necessary doctrines, will long prosper. That Church may blossom for a while, but it will fade if it, under stresses,neglects the doctrine of the Trinity. And churches that lose this faith do not reproduce themselves. A second generation Unitarian, according to the Unitarians themselves, is a great rarity. They are rarely to be found.” ENDQUOTE
That this doctrine was considered essential can be seen in all the ink that has been spilled over the centuries in order to defend it.
Against Praxeas by Tertullian (160-220) In this letter, Tertullian demonstrates through the use of Scripture that the Son and the Father are “distinct” but not “separate.”
Nicene Creed (325) The result of the First Council of Nicene, the Nicene Creed states that the Son is of “one substance” with the Father, and not of a “similar” substance of the Father.
Defense of the Nicene Definition by St. Athanasius (297-373) In this work, St. Athanasius provides an account of the Arians at the Council of Nicene* and defends the Nicene Creed from criticism of it being ‘unbiblical.’
The Third Theological Oration. On the Son. by St. Gregory of Nazianzus (329-390) In this oration, St. Gregory of Nazianzus defends the traditional, Nicene understanding of the Trinity, claiming that the persons of the Trinity are “numerically distinct” without a “severance of essence.”
Dogmatic Treatises by St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-394) Although much controversy focused on the divinity of Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity also posits the Holy Spirit as divine. In this treatise, St. Gregory of Nyssa defends the divinity of the Holy Spirit through Scripture.
Homilies on the Gospel of St. John by St. John Chrysostom (347-407) In a homily on John 1, St. John Chrysostom argues that Scripture clearly teaches that God the Father and Christ are distinct, but not of a compound substance.
On the Holy Trinity by St. Augustine (354-430) St. Augustine devoted an entire book to the topic of the Trinity. Among other things, he argues that the Trinity can be seen in Scripture, responds to objections to the Trinity, and demonstrates the equality of the Godhead.
The Trinity is One God Not Three Gods by St. Boethius (480-525) Using general philosophical principles, St. Boethius demonstrates that God is unified in substance, but differs in number of persons.*
Monologium by St. Anselm (1033-1109) St. Anselm seems to suggest that we lack any fitting language for describing the Trinity as “three,” because terms like “person” or “substance” seem to only apply to things of plurality, of which God is not.
Treatise on the Most Holy Trinity by St. Aquinas (1225-1274) In a long treatise on the Trinity, St. Aquinas addresses many features of the Trinity including: the Divine relations, the procession of the Trinity, and the relationship of the members of the Trinity to God’s essence.
Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin (1509-1564) Using both Scripture and philosophy, Calvin argues for the traditional understanding of the Trinity as “three persons in one God.”
Brief Declaration and Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity by John Owen (1616-1683) Using both Scripture and reason, John Owen defends the doctrine of the Trinity against “Socinianism”—the view that Christ did not pre-exist before being a man.
Systematic Theology, vol. 1 by Charles Hodge (1797-1878) In a rigorous fashion, Hodge examines the Scriptural evidence for the Trinity, the Nicene Creed, and philosophical formulations of the doctrine.
During the Reformation The Council of Geneva — the city where Calvin was the First among equals in terms of the Pastorate there, thought the doctrine of the Trinity so important that the Council handed down and implemented a death sentence upon a notorious heretic named Servetus who was actively seeking to overthrow the doctrine of the Trinity. This death sentence had already been pronounced in absentia by many of the countries of Europe, both Roman Catholic and Protestant.
These communities understood that if the doctrine of the Trinity was given up the whole basis of their civil social order would be overthrown. The death penalty for Servetus was done as a protection for the whole community.
The Church understood that reality was integrated. They understood that if one went from a Trinitarian to a Unitarian understanding of God the consequence would be that everything would change. This idea of a integrated reality is captured by a quote from Edmund Opus in a book entitled “Problems of Church and Society.”
“Communism is all of a piece. Adopt its metaphysics and in a technological age we get the ‘planned from the top down’ society. Start on the social level by putting any collectivist principle into operation, and it breeds more of the same until eventually the society becomes fully collectivized. The many part of society are delicately interrelated. Start by fixing the price of a quart of milk, and the glass industry will be told what it must charge for bottles. The wages of delivery men must be regulated, the diary industry controlled and so until the logical end result in time is the totally regimented economy or socialism.”
Now apply that realization to Trinitarian Christianity. Paralleling Opus we might say, “Trinitarian Christianity is all of a piece. Adopt its metaphysics and we get the unity in diversity society. Start on the social level by putting jurisdictionalism as a reflection of Trinitarian understandings of God into operation, and it breeds more and more of the idea of unity in diversity.”
All this to say that if a social order is Trinitarian it is going to resist the attempt by Unitarianism to overthrow understandings of the Trinity in order to protect itself. All this to say that historically the idea of Trinitarian Christianity was seen as foundational and worth dying for AND killing for (Consider Servetus) in order to protect.
As an aside … one thing that R2K does with its dualism is that it cuts off the influence of Trinitarianism on a social order. R2K insists that Trinitarianism’s organizing power is restricted to the Church while suggesting that Christians can be satisfied with Unitarianism in the public square.
The Current Church seems not to see the Trinity as Important
But this is not the opinion of much of the Evangelical Church today in the West. We have so insisted on the pragmatic “cash value” side of Christianity that we are increasingly putting the foundational doctrines aside.
Rob Bell seems to contend in one of his books that the doctrines of Christianity themselves are more useful than true. He specifically names the Trinity, likening the Trinity to the idea of one of the springs that serve to keep a Trampoline taut and by which a Trampoline gets its launching quality and saying something to the effect of, “People have been using this particular (Trinity) ‘spring’ to jump for years. But does that mean that it is essential? Couldn’t we change it for something else? I am not saying that we should – but certainly we could. If we did so, couldn’t we still love God, live moral lives, etc.?”
SUCCINCT EXPLANATION OF TRINITY
IMPLICATIONS OF THE TRINITY
The reality of the Trinity gives us a basis for Christian community. Clearly, if God has community in Himself, then that community of the Godhead becomes the template for the community of the saints as they have communion with Him. The Church as covenant community is, or at least ought to be, the “live in technicolor” demonstration of God as community.
Miroslav Volf put it this way
“Because the Christian God is not a lonely God, but rather a communion of three persons, faith leads human beings into the divine communion. One cannot, however, have a self-enclosed communion with the Triune God- a “foursome,” as it were– for the Christian God is not a private deity. Communion with this God is at once also communion with those others who have entrusted themselves in faith to the same God. Hence one and the same act of faith places a person into a new relationship both with God and with all others who stand in communion with God.”
― Miroslav Volf, After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity
Our Fellowship with the Trinity brings us into Fellowship with one another. This seems to be part of what St. John is getting at when he writes,
20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: 23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
UNITY IN DIVERSITY
The Eternal One and Many gives meaning to the temporal One and Many.
One & The Many
The reality of the Trinity suggests to us that as God’s unity and His diversity (plurality) are equally ultimate so that neither unity nor plurality is more equally ultimate then the other. What this means is that followers of this Triune God build family structures, church structures, and civil social structures where one finds unity in diversity. Both Unity and Diversity are both valued properly. As such the Christian faith values both the individual as individual while at the same time valuing the individual as part of one community. Both the individual and the community, like the persons of the Godhead and the unity of the Godhead, are equally ultimate.
This doctrine of the Trinity therefore wars against all arrangements where people become uniformed clones who lose all their distinctions in the great miasma of social order oneness. Similarly this doctrine of the Trinity wars against all arrangements of social anarchy where each man does what is right in his own eyes thus losing all basis for community. The doctrine of the Trinity suggests that what will we find are a plurality of Christian communities, one in their beliefs regarding our undoubted Catholic Christian Faith, but yet distinct according to families of man that God has sovereignly placed us in. By such an arrangement one finds the reason why Heaven is populated with men from every tribe, tongue, and Nation.
Chesterton was getting at this when he wrote,
“For the highest thing does not tend to union only; the highest thing, tends also to differentiation. You can often get men to fight for the union; but you can never prevent them from fighting also for the differentiation. This variety in the highest thing is the meaning of the fierce patriotism, the fierce nationalism of the great European civilization. It is also, incidentally, the meaning of the doctrine of the Trinity.”
― G.K. Chesterton, Heretics