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The Christian Trinity

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Posted

Christianity has become largely identified with the Trinity, and it seems that for most people this Trinity notion is utterly unintelligible, a mystery - make that a Mystery with a capital "M". Some go so far as to say that the Trinity is not just unintelligible but more properly described as incoherent.

But is this so? Is the concept or the explication of the Trinity genuinely incoherent?

No.

The alleged incoherence of the Trinity seems most often to relate to the Trinity as put forth in part of what is known as the Athanasian Creed. This is the creed which speaks of three persons being one God, and, on the face of it, it strikes most ears, eyes, or minds as preposterous to assert that three persons, three distinct beings, can be one other being (God) -- especially when each of those three distinct persons appears also to be individually identified as the one God. Hence, the alleged incoherence of the Trinity.

However, an analysis of the Trinity as explicated in the Athanasian Creed indicates that the one thing which that Trinity is not is incoherent. Furthermore, the Trinity is not tri-theistic.

... we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.

The Trinity section of the creed starts off with its most important point: There is one God. It is worth noting that the Nicene Creed also begins by proclaiming belief in one God; however, whereas the Nicene Creed never refers to a Trinity, per se, (certainly in the English translation) the Athanasian Creed immediately associates the one God with a Trinity. Whatever this Trinity is, it is clearly three of something, but the creed is also quick to re-assert the Unity, the oneness of this Trinity and, thereby, the oneness of God.

For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost.

Here the creed employs the term "Person", but at no point is a definition provided for this term. Whatever a "Person" is, it is clear that that there are three of them listed. Therefore, in light of the aforementioned term "Trinity" indicating three of something, it is reasonable to substitute these identified "Persons" for the three that are the Trinity.

Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.

Whatever "Substance" is (and it, too, is not defined within the creed), "Substance" is here presented as indivisible. There is one God; there is one indivisible "Substance"; it is reasonable to associate this "Substance" with the Divine "being" referred to as "God".

But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost is all One, the Glory Equal, the Majesty Co-Eternal.

Here the term "Godhead" is introduced. There is only one Godhead that includes the three aforementioned "Persons". There being one God and one Godhead suggests that "God" and "Godhead" are essentially substitutable terms. The "Persons" are as eternal as is God, and since the Trinity of "Persons" is "in Unity" as well as eternal, the "Persons" are eternally "in Unity". And, yet, while the "Substance" which is the one God is indivisible, clearly there are distinctions of some sort between "Persons" such that it would be a mistake or inappropriate to "confound" - to confuse - those distinctions when referring to the "Persons".

Based on the foregoing, we have one eternal God with an indivisible "Substance"; we have three distinguishable "Persons" which are eternally "in Unity" in God. The three eternal "Persons" who are "in Unity" refer to the one eternal God. The three "Persons" are distinguishable, but the "Substance" of God is indivisible; therefore, the distinctions between the "Persons" are not divisions in the "Substance".

What cannot be logically drawn from the above is the notion that each "Person" has its own "Substance". In the Athanasian Trinity, there is only one "Substance" being discussed; the distinctions between the "Persons" do not establish distinct or multiple "Substance". Therefore, in terms of "Substance", according to the Athanasian Trinity, there is only one God. There is only one Divine "Substance", and there is only one Divine being; therefore, whatever a substance might be, there is reason to believe that, within the creed, one and only one being is associated with the one "Substance" - even if there are three "Persons".

Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father Uncreate, the Son Uncreate, and the Holy Ghost Uncreate. The Father Incomprehensible, the Son Incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost Incomprehensible. The Father Eternal, the Son Eternal, and the Holy Ghost Eternal and yet they are not Three Eternals but One Eternal. As also there are not Three Uncreated, nor Three Incomprehensibles, but One Uncreated, and One Uncomprehensible. So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not Three Almighties but One Almighty.

No matter how God gets described, there is one and only one God, and God is one being (not three) - even if there are three "Persons". Accordingly, whatever a "Person" might be, there is reason to understand that a "Person" as used in this creed is not a being in and of itself.

So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not Three Gods, but One God.

The use of "is" in the preceding seems to be a source of great confusion for many, but it is quite clear that the first sentence of the preceding pair is not to be considered without the second sentence. Essentially, to do so - to consider the first sentence without the second - is to take the "is" sentence out of context.

So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not Three Lords but One Lord. For, like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be God and Lord, so are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion to say, there be Three Gods or Three Lords. The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father, and of the Son neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

So there is One Father, not Three Fathers; one Son, not Three Sons; One Holy Ghost, not Three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is afore or after Other, None is greater or less than Another, but the whole Three Persons are Co-eternal together, and Co-equal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity is Trinity, and the Trinity is Unity is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, must thus think of the Trinity.

After an insistence upon utterly resisting any tendency to think of the Trinity as either three Gods or three Lords, the section of the creed dealing with the Trinity ends with a reiteration of, an emphasis on, the oneness of God.

Based on the foregoing, Trinitarianism avoids the charge of tri-theism if the one "Substance" is sufficient as a way of limiting the discussion to one "being", and, as noted here, although there are philosophical differences pertaining to just what are properly regarded as substances, the manner in which "Substance" gets employed in the Athanasian Trinity is hardly uncommon on the face of it:

The philosophical term

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Posted

I will await the discussion of the "masks," but I am wondering how "masks" can do anything real? What would be the importance of insisting on three persons if there really is one and only one God?

#288

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Posted

Thanks Mike. I'm not Christian but, if it is considered amicable, I'll partake in some of this discussion. I guess the main question I have is the status of Jesus. Does the son element of the trinity correspond with the earthly as well as resurrected Jesus, or only the resurrected Jesus? That is, before his death was Jesus god?

The second question, which is the first thing I came up with while searching for wrinkles in this theory, is which aspect, the substance or the person, do we attribute actions or will to? If we attribute action to the divine substance, then when we say that god created the heavens and the earth, then we must infer that jesus created the heavens and the earth, and the holy ghost created the heavens and the earth. Similarly, when jesus walked on water, then god walked on water, and the holy ghost walked on water. If, on the other hand, we attribute action to the person rather than to the substance, then the trinity begin to look like three separate beings as the world would then be ruled by three separate wills.

Anyway, I'm pretty sure there are ways of explaining this away, but I guess I'm wondering which explanation is more commensurable with Christian theology.

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Posted

The second question, which is the first thing I came up with while searching for wrinkles in this theory, is which aspect, the substance or the person, do we attribute actions or will to? If we attribute action to the divine substance, then when we say that god created the heavens and the earth, then we must infer that jesus created the heavens and the earth, and the holy ghost created the heavens and the earth.

Appropos this question, here are some relevant Bible verses (King James version). Draw your own conclusions.

Genesis 1:1

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Genesis 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.

John 1:1-3

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2The same was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

John 1:14

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

While the term is not part of the traditional Christian lexicon I do find a strong similarity between the Christian use of "Persons" and the Hindu use of "Avatars". Both suggest multiple perceptible and distinctive experiences of a god which is, at its root, a unity.

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Posted

So, just to make sure we're on the page, the Word = Jesus?

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Posted

Maybe I'm perverse, but I have never found the concept of the Trinity to be either unintelligible or incomprehensible. I have always found it to be the claim that there is one underlying susbstance, or substrate, manifesting itself in different ways (masks, personas, or what have you). Of course, then I read about quantum mechanics :D so maybe that's why I'm perverse.

After all, what's an electron? It is a particle or a wave? It depends on what question you ask! If you ask question A it is a wave; if you ask question B it is a particle. Yet there can't possibly be anything so different as a wave and a particle; they are fundamentally at odds; yet here we have, not in religion but in science, an entity called an electron that has a dual (Janus?) face. And what goes for electrons, btw, goes for everything else.

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Posted

So, just to make sure we're on the page, the Word = Jesus?

Got it in one! Or, to be more precise, the Word made flesh = Jesus. The Word as a pre-existing Person of the Trinity is not precisely the equivalent of Jesus. This, however, raises the whole problem of the Incarnation and the doctrine of the Two Natures of Christ. That, my friend, is a whole 'nother can of worms.

Angakuk

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Posted

...I am wondering how "masks" can do anything real? What would be the importance of insisting on three persons if there really is one and only one God?

I think that a good reason for referring to (as distinguished from "insisting on") the Persons can be gleaned from Angakuk's posting in which God is discussed and described with such terms as "spirit", "word", and the like, and I agree with Angakuk when he says:

the Christian use of "Persons" ... suggest multiple perceptible and distinctive experiences of a god which is, at its root, a unity.

In such a light, it seems quite apparent that the word for "mask" was chosen as what was thought to be the best choice amongst words available to discuss the multi-faceted experiences of and presentations about God, such as in the corpus of scripture. Persona, or "mask", was used analogically or metaphorically.

An actor might change masks to indicate different characters, but the actual actor would remain one and the same being -- even were we not to be aware that it was truly the same actor. Here the persona, the mask changes, and we can speak in terms of different words to describe each Person, but there is only one actual being.

It is also possible that different masks might be used to present different expressions for the same character, and we could speak in terms of different words to describe each expression, but we could still be referring to one and the same actor or character.

One possible problem with the term "mask" is that even when there is only one being associated with the different masks, the use of masks might suggest that God is intentionally hiding or in some sense withholding Himself, but such a way of understanding "mask" is non-necessary and can be reasonably denied. Indeed, to an extent, the Athanasian creed does anticipate and preclude some problems which could (and did) arise in relation to the notions which could get associated with "masks".

For example, the previously cited article on "Person" notes about the word persona that:

From [a mask worn by an actor] it was applied to the role [the actor] assumed ... The precise Greek equivalent was prosopon, likewise used originally of the actor's mask and then of the character he represented ...

Different "masks" (even when used simply to present different expressions) and "roles" can suggest some notion of God "metamorphos[ing] as the need of the moment required ... now as Father, now as Son, and now as Holy Ghost" (see here ), and this notion of God "metamorphos[ing]" or assuming different roles at different times is generally associated with Modalism - which is considered heretical. One understanding of Modalism that the Athanasian creed is clearly supposed to counter can be found here:

Modalism ... states that God is a single person who, throughout biblical history, has revealed Himself in three consecutive modes, or forms. Thus, God is a single person who first manifested himself in the mode of the Father in Old Testament times. At the incarnation, the mode was the Son. After Jesus' ascension, the mode is the Holy Spirit. These modes are consecutive and never simultaneous. In other words, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit never all exist at the same time, only one after another.

Of course, by insisting that the Divine Persons are "all One" and "co-eternal", the creed effectively communicates that the "masks" are not intended to denote consecutive and non-simultaneous roles or modes. In this same way, the creed communicates that the masks are not supposed to indicate multiple characters or beings. Therefore, it is quite clear that the three Persons, the three "masks", of the Athanasian creed refer to one Divine being, God, and the creed makes it quite clear that these Persons, these "masks", have always been in the same way that God has always been.

The Trinity, in and of itself, is presented coherently in terms of "Persons" derived from persona and prosopon, originally meaning "mask".

However, historically, there have been other matters which have threatened the coherence of the Athanasian Trinity. One of those threats actually had to do with differences between the Eastern and Western churches that arose over the use of persona or prosopon, but that problem more directly regarded the Incarnation rather than the Trinity itself.

As the article on "Person" reports:

... the meaning of the word [prosopon] had not passed on, as had that of persona, to the general signification of individual. Consequently tres personae, tria prosopa, savoured of Sabellianism to the Greeks [where "Sabellianism" is used generally to refer to those who "exaggerated the oneness of the Father and the Son so as to make them but one Person; thus the distinctions in the Holy Trinity are energies or modes, not Persons: God the Father appears on earth as Son; hence it seemed to their opponents that Monarchians made the Father suffer and die. In the West they were called Patripassians, whereas in the East they are usually called Sabellians."].

I will address the method used to resolve the objection that arose in association with differences that had evolved between persona and prosopon in another posting. However, as the note about Sabellianism indicates, the problem could be described as apparently having to do with what might seem to have been a perception of excessive unity in the Persons of the Trinity, a problem that comes to the fore in Jesus where Jesus is presumed to be God the Son Incarnate. This is to say that while the Trinity formulation in and of itself is coherent, the notion of the Incarnation could possibly threaten that coherence.

To end this posting, I would like to refer again to maddog's posting in which she asked:

...I am wondering how "masks" can do anything real? What would be the importance of insisting on three persons if there really is one and only one God?

One thing that the "masks" do is give people a way of tying together the different ways in which God appears to be described in their Scriptures (and I will probably get into this more in subsequent postings). But, since the "three persons ... really [refer to] one and only one God", it is not necessary to speak in terms of the three Persons; therefore, any insistence that one speak in terms of the Trinity would most often be without warrant. Still, there can be contexts, obviously, in which familiarity with Trinitarian expression could be useful even for those who would not otherwise think or speak in such a fashion.

Michael

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Posted

I'm not Christian but, if it is considered amicable, I'll partake in some of this discussion. I guess the main question I have is the status of Jesus. Does the son element of the trinity correspond with the earthly as well as resurrected Jesus, or only the resurrected Jesus? That is, before his death was Jesus god?

First of all, PoL, and I am not speaking only for myself, your postings are always amicable, even in disagreement.

With regards to Jesus, the first thing to notice is that the section of the Athanasian Creed pertaining to the Trinity does not even mention Jesus. Taking for the sake of argument that the Person of God the Son corresponds to the Word, then Angakuk stated it very nicely when he said:

The Word as a pre-existing Person of the Trinity is not precisely the equivalent of Jesus [because] the Word made flesh = Jesus.

With regards to your "second question" --

... which aspect, the substance or the person, do we attribute actions or will to? If we attribute action to the divine substance, then when we say that god created the heavens and the earth, then we must infer that jesus created the heavens and the earth, and the holy ghost created the heavens and the earth. Similarly, when jesus walked on water, then god walked on water, and the holy ghost walked on water. If, on the other hand, we attribute action to the person rather than to the substance, then the trinity begin to look like three separate beings as the world would then be ruled by three separate wills.

Given, as mentioned, that Jesus is addressed in terms of the Incarnation with "the Incarnation [being] a whole 'nother can of worms", as Angakuk quite properly put it, then your question cannot really be dealt with until or unless we deal with the Incarnation. As I noted in my response to maddog, I will go ahead and move on to the Incarnation in a (hopefully) soon-to-come posting, dealing with it first as a threat to the coherence of the Trinity.

So, putting aside the Jesus matter for now, and speaking strictly in terms of the three Persons described in the Trinity section of the creed, the most correct way of noting who "created the heavens and the earth" would be to say "God".

Of course, using John 1: 1-3 referred to by Angakuk, and with the Word understood as corresponding to the Person of God the Son, one could assert that God the Son "created the heavens and the earth", but those same verses - along with the insistence of the creed that the statement "the Son is God" is always to be qualified by the statement "And yet they are not Three Gods, but One God" - are ultimately just saying something about "God".

Michael

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Posted

Such interesting discussion too.

My take. Religions are not scientific accounts of facts, although 'believers' may rest blind faith in them. I study different sets of scriptures, in search of truth. I do believe in God, and I have been able to find traces of divine existence, or at least what I repute as such, in the observable reality, but I dont think any of the descriptions that circulate fit the picture at all

I do not think that religious scriptures provide reliable accounts of what god is and isnt, they are (to me) merely pointers, and personal experiences of mystics and truth seekers, diluted by censorship and biased by history and political manipulation. We may be able to establish a personal realtionship with god through our soul, though. The personal dialogue is possible, and rather intriguing.

Assume that the trinity is a 'metaphor' for x (unknown value yet to be defined)

Look for the symbol of the trinity in architecture, history, religions all around the world. See what they point to. List them, compare them

Do you spot a pattern?

In hinduism, for example 'brahma shiva vishnu' represent a trinity. My conclusion: the divine dimension is complex, and it is represented and simplified by symbolism. The trinity represents the tip of the iceberg, ie,

what you can see/represent (i think the visualization fits well the triangular shape)

The rest is hiddent, unmeaurable with the naked eye

In 2003 I visited a place in Tamil Nadu, south India. A temple there in a city called Shankarkovil is very ancient, and wonderfully powerful. virutally unknown to tourist maps.

http://www.tageo.com/index-e-in-v-25-d-m2929272.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tirunelveli_District

video.aol.com/video-detail/sankarankovil-temple/1707612457 - 75k

. In there there is a statue that represents god as half visnu (the maintainer of reality) and half shiva (the destroyer)

Brahma is 'assumed' as it cannot be depicted, as it is beyond material form. That statue was erected by some king (cant remember the name) who had a dream, that shiva and visnu were one and the same.

Assume god is, or may be, absolute reality in all its form, and your ability to perceive/know god is determined by the state of your sensory perception, plus a combination of karma and evolutionary state of your consciousness.

I think number three as in the trinity, conveys a meaning of 'what is created' or 'what is manifest' - I dont remember which pieces of literature I got this information from, but there are vast and vast references that I do not have at hand

If you like this stuff, I think there is work to be done putting all the pieces together. One day you will tell us what you have found out

I was just taking a break from work, more reply to posts later)

Look forward

PDM

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Posted

But is this so? Is the concept or the explication of the Trinity genuinely incoherent?

No.

I think you are right but what also needs to be asked is "coherent with what?". Is it coherent with logic, experience, science, etc?

What seems to be happening in the Athanasian creed is an attempt to defend a theological position by combining logic and psychology. The use of "persona" (mask) introduces a psychological element to the reasoning. I would imagine that most people at that time would be very familiar with the idea of a mask in their theatre. They might also have personal experiences of "masking" themselves in certain situations. As such, the creed could be available to a much wider audience than if it were a purely abstract treatise. But once an element of psychology is introduced into a logical defense then for those who would demand logical coherence, a logical exploration of "persona" would seem to be necessary. Perhaps this is why there are reams and reams of essays and books on the Trinity.

Is the Trinity coherent with respect to experience? This is where things get really complex. One would have to wonder if anyone has had the experience of the Trinity prior to being introduced to the concept at some point. I would guess this not the case so for it to be coherent with experience, it would have to be coherent with prior, more fundamental experiences. As I understand it the creed was, at least in part, a reaction to the Arian view that rejected the divinity of Jesus. This eventually gets back to scripture and what the writers intended to say about Jesus. Certainly they saw something quite remarkable in Jesus, but would their experiences of him be coherent with the Trinitarian doctrine? Since, as far as I'm aware, there are no formulations like the Trinity in scripture, it would be hard to say.

Is the Christian Trinity coherent with science? The New Atheists would certainly say no, but their arguments are such a mish mash of empirical interpretations, theological concepts and psychological evaluations, I think it would be hard for them to claim an incoherence with science, per se. In fact I think many people would say that science is mute on this issue. But that gets into the whole mess of demarcation which, in my view, is a dead end.

However, if one looks at the deeper issues that are reflected in the Trinity doctrine it may be that, at some level, they may find coherence with empirical investigations like those found in modern physics. The double-slit experiment, quantum entanglement, and chaos theory suggest a holistic picture of reality that could sit well with the concept of "unity within distinction" that is found in the Trinitarian doctrine.

Then there are parallels in the history of philosophy of this struggle to somehow makes sense of "the One and the Many". If all this is labeled incoherent a lot of philosophy would have to be thrown out. Philologist and expert on ancient Indo-European thought, Thomas McEvilley in his amazing book "The Shape of Ancient Thought" writes:

The first philosophical question, "The Problem of the One and the Many" expresses the same ordering impulse that fueled the obsession with astronomy and geometry--the desire to find unifying principles behind apparent diversity. It is also an attempt to justify the claims for certainty of knowledge that the mathematically based sciences inspired. If things are different and separate, then the universe at large is unknowable, since only specific things may be "known" one at a time. The preoccupation with the Problem of the One and the Many expressed a desire to know the universe in some larger sense than that, by finding principles which would render every situation knowable with or without direct experience of it. Superficially diversity was to be tamed and made knowable by apprehension of underlying reality.

McEvilley traces this obsession with the question of diversity and unity (as well as the multiplicity of gods) all the way back to the Old Kingdom (3rd millennium BC):

Already in the Old Kingdom, the priesthood of Heliopolis portrayed its god Atum as declaring himself to be identical with each of the other great gods. After a shift of power, the priesthood of Memphis declared the various god and goddesses to be parts of their own metadeity, Ptah, who is conceived anthropomorphically, as a Macranthropus, or Cosmic Person. Atum is declared to be the heart and tongue of Ptah, the nine gods of Heliopolis are declared to be "before him as his tongue and lips." Other gods are declared to become Ptah in their different ways.

Given the theistic formulations in Christianity, Hinduism, and even physics the issue of the One and the Many is a perennial one. In the Christian context it gets played out once again in finding a place for the divinity of Jesus.

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Posted

I do believe in God ... but I dont think any of the descriptions that circulate fit the picture at all

Is it possible that the descriptions, rather than not "fit[ting] the picture at all", are instead better appreciated as not (yet) filling in enough of the picture? I think there are many reasons or contributing factors for why this would be so. I think Steve touches upon one when he says:

What seems to be happening in the Athanasian creed is an attempt to defend a theological position by combining logic and psychology.

A creed is primarily a defense, an exercise in apologetics. It is an attempt at broadly defining a community by presenting or justifying a common way of speaking about shared - or at least similar - beliefs or experiences, but that way of speaking is not supposed to be aridly logical. That way of speaking is also supposed to provide for emotional - or psychological - entailments as well.

Even where a creed succeeds at a logical presentment, the logic does no more than indicate a sense of intelligibility, and this sense of intelligibility can go no further than to impart a sense of personal accessibility to something beyond one's self, and this serves as an invitation for further personal involvement. But humans are not mere intellect, and just as logical validity is insufficient for truth - even if this validity is necessary for or an aspect of truth, even if such a validity must be available for humans to recognize truths - intellect is an insufficient means by which to assess or identify humanness.

One way in which a creed attempts to involve more than just the intellect is by using words that have already attained a more robust importance for the people who would be joined in community. These words attain this importance, this robustness, because of some extra-intellect appeal or effect. Even if the words have a personal psychological importance simply because they are words to which a person has been exposed for his or her whole life so that these words could even be considered as constitutive of the person, there will even then be an aesthetic or emotional effect associated with these words.

So, while the human is not mere intellect, with a successful logical presentment in terms of emotionally/psychologically/experientially important words, a creed is both an acknowledgment of the whole person and a potentially constant reminder that the intellect serves the development, the furtherment of the person while also displacing from the person any sense that personal interest, or the personal perspective, is itself ever sufficient.

I do not think that religious scriptures provide reliable accounts of what god is and isnt, they are (to me) merely pointers ...

If, by "reliable", you mean something along the lines of incomplete or insufficient in themselves, then I agree.

and personal experiences of mystics and truth seekers, diluted by censorship and biased by history and political manipulation.

But even without "censorship ... bias ... and political manipulation", what the "mystics and truth seekers" can say about their realizations is greatly constrained by the contexts of their lives. This context includes their own more mundane experiences; it includes the words which are available to them to express the information they would impart should they ever wish to inform others via speech, and that, after all, is the form of expression which gets incorporated into scriptures.

There are, of course, other modes of expression available; indeed, one's manner of being and becoming - rather than one's words - can be the expression. And such a notion appears within the Athanasian Creed (even if unintentionally). In what are referred to as the "damnatory" passages of that creed, parts of the creed which do not constitute the Trinity section being discussed here, it is said that:

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the Catholic Faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity ...

One way of understanding what is being said in this part of the creed is to appreciate that the beliefs which follow are at most only necessary, and, even then, neither those beliefs nor the expression of those beliefs are sufficient for salvation, or wholeness.

what also needs to be asked is "coherent with what?"

I agree. But we could also ask: "Coherent as what?" And it is probably this form of the question that I will be addressing when I investigate whether the coherence of the Trinity can survive the Incarnation. I would like to get to that promised posting before I leave town tomorrow evening, but, if I fail to, I should have something ready by the beginning of next week.

Michael

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Posted

As an aside, one might (or might not) find it instructive to peruse this thread at Campanella's board.

Angakuk

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Posted

In a previous posting, I wrote:

As the article on "Person" reports:

... the meaning of the word [prosopon] had not passed on, as had that of persona, to the general signification of individual. Consequently tres personae, tria prosopa, savoured of Sabellianism to the Greeks [where "Sabellianism" is used generally to refer to those who "exaggerated the oneness of the Father and the Son so as to make them but one Person; thus the distinctions in the Holy Trinity are energies or modes, not Persons: God the Father appears on earth as Son; hence it seemed to their opponents that Monarchians made the Father suffer and die. In the West they were called Patripassians, whereas in the East they are usually called Sabellians."].

On the face of it, it would seem from the cited quote that the Greeks had a problem with the association that had developed between "individual" and persona or "person", an association which had not occurred with the Greek word prosopon. Indeed, as that same article notes,

Person is predicated only of intellectual beings.

Accordingly, to refer to a Trinity of Persons would seem to be reference to a Trinity of individual beings, and this, clearly, would not be an expression readily amenable to the claim that there is only one Divine substance, only one Divine individual, only one Divine being. That same article does explain that eventually

it was recognized [by both East and West] that the words hypostasis, prosopon, and persona were equally applicable to the three Divine realities [which get referred to as the three Divine "Persons" of the Trinity]

but what the article does not do is lay out a concise argument or explanation in support of the recognition "that the words hypostasis, prosopon, and persona [are] equally applicable" or, in effect, interchangeable.

Another article notes that "[p]revious to the Council of Nic

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Posted

Great analysis -it looks like you have got it all worked out...

:-)

We need to start working on a definition of God that everyone can accept

could take long, don't hold breath

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This is a very interesting thread, and encapsulates precisely why I am not a Christian. You see, I believe that the Jesus Christ who walked on the earth two thousand years ago was a man. As such he was a separate entity or being. Therefore he cannot be the persona of the trinity referred to as the Son, as it is explicit that the trinity is but one being.

The only conclusion I can draw from this is that Jesus Christ (the man) was a prophet. Of course, you can quote from the Bible claims that directly contradict this. But I have no problem with that, because it merely confirms to me that the Bible is not the literal truth.

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This is a very interesting thread, and encapsulates precisely why I am not a Christian. You see, I believe that the Jesus Christ who walked on the earth two thousand years ago was a man. As such he was a separate entity or being. Therefore he cannot be the persona of the trinity referred to as the Son, as it is explicit that the trinity is but one being.

The only conclusion I can draw from this is that Jesus Christ (the man) was a prophet. Of course, you can quote from the Bible claims that directly contradict this. But I have no problem with that, because it merely confirms to me that the Bible is not the literal truth.

we believe what we want and need to believe

can you really draw conclusions about a man who walked on earth two thousand years ago just because what you heard from others?

a partial conclusion perhaps - assume there is more than history has not captured than history has captured (assume this from just looking at the documentaries and media and see how much of the real story they give, and now they have the full technology and some thousand years experience)

I am not sure what you need conclusions for, but afaik, understanding the universe is an open, ongoing dialog

it's a cycle of increasing awareness

The concept of the trinity is made by humans - you dont have to believe

in that - (I have just noticed more smilies on the right hand side! totally crazy smilies :clown:):poke:

even the Bible is written/edited by humans, although it may contain some accounts of experiences of the divine

and someone can be a prophet, a man, and the son of God all in one

until you prove the contrary

:poke:

believe

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I believe that the Jesus Christ who walked on the earth two thousand years ago was a man. As such he was a separate entity or being. Therefore he cannot be the persona of the trinity referred to as the Son, as it is explicit that the trinity is but one being.

Do you think it matters whether Jesus was somehow the Divine incarnate as well as human? If it is a fact of history and reality that God somehow became incarnate as the man Jesus, how does that make anything necessarily different with regards to what we know about God or our relationship to and with God? That is to say, if it is not a fact of history and reality that God somehow became incarnate as the man Jesus, if it is a fact that God did not become incarnate as Jesus, then other than how some people regard Jesus as having a Divine nature, what other beliefs about God would also have to change?

Along these lines, there is a part of Andrew Nam's review (referred to in an earlier posting in this thread) of the Brummer book which deals with "Christian exclusivism":

Brummer ... decisively rejects Christian exclusivism, which claims that no 'real' knowledge of God is possible without knowing Christ. Brummer finds such a claim to be preposterous from the Christian point of view, for the incarnate Word of God is "the same Word that was already revealed in the Torah" (italics [by Nam]).

It is not clear what Brummer's objection really amounts to. If he rejects exclusivism which denies any knowledge of God to traditions outside of Christianity, then he has set up a strawman; no Christian with an intelligible notion of general revelation would hold such an extreme view. If Brummer's rejection of exclusivism, however, entails that the knowledge of God obtained through properly knowing Christ is somehow qualitatively the same as the knowledge of God obtained through some other means, Brummer has misunderstood the core Christian soteriological claim. While the incarnate Word might be the same Word revealed in the Torah in the sense that they both have the same referent, the incarnate Word is the full revelation of the compassionate love of God without which the full knowledge of God, hence ultimate happiness, is unattainable.

What Nam's remarks amount to is a claim that the Christian expression is the best, the fullest and most effective way of imparting information about God that is likely critical to developing the most perfect personal relationship with God. Even if this were indubitably the case, does this effectiveness actually depend on holding that Jesus was in some way the Divine incarnate? Is knowledge about "the compassionate love of God without which the full knowledge of God is unattainable" actually and always available only if one accepts, or thinks in terms of, "the incarnate Word"?

Is the point of Christian belief simply to identify a community of people who merely opt to speak in a certain way and to consent to a particular way of expressing their apparently similar beliefs?

I do not think so.

Again, I think that the point, the purpose, the goal of Christian belief is to facilitate the furthering of Godliness within individuals. Even when it is accepted (even if only for the sake or argument) that knowledge about or belief in the compassionate love of God is necessary for the fullest knowledge about or relationship with God, there are many factors to be taken into account before arriving at some notion that (what commonly gets regarded as) the Christian mode of expression is (broadly) necessary for Godliness to be developed. Similarly, there are many factors to be considered before being able to determine that the Christian mode of expression is what will most effectively contribute to the development of Godliness in each and every individual.

Of course, if what I have remarked here is (first of all) sensible and (then) correct, what flaw is there in thinking about God in terms of an incarnation in Jesus? Is there some necessarily unbridgeable gap between those who think of Jesus as the incarnate Word and those who do not think in such a way? I do not think so.

Michael

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we believe what we want and need to believe

True, but believing it does not make it objectively true.

can you really draw conclusions about a man who walked on earth two thousand years ago just because what you heard from others?

Yes.

I am not sure what you need conclusions for, but afaik, understanding the universe is an open, ongoing dialog it's a cycle of increasing awareness

I think there are a lot of fundamentalist Christians who would disagree with you. For them, the Bible is the literal truth, and is unchanging.

The concept of the trinity is made by humans - you dont have to believe

in that... even the Bible is written/edited by humans, although it may contain some accounts of experiences of the divine

Again, the fundamentalist Christians would not agree with you.

and someone can be a prophet, a man, and the son of God all in one

until you prove the contrary

Simply saying that does not make it true. My comments are based on pure logic. The two statements:

a) Jesus Christ was a man, a separate being.

B) The Son of God is part of the trinity and is not a separate being.

exclude the statement:

c) Jesus Christ was the Son of God.

These three statements cannot all be true.

Now, when you have statements that are logically exclusive, you cannot prove using just logic which of them is wrong. But you can, and I have, shown that one of them must be wrong. So I agree that there is an element of arbitrariness in my chosing the latter as the false statement. That is a personal choice. But you cannot logically state that all three statements are true. To do so is illogical, however much you may believe it.

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My comments are based on pure logic. The two statements:

a) Jesus Christ was a man, a separate being.

B) The Son of God is part of the trinity and is not a separate being.

exclude the statement:

c) Jesus Christ was the Son of God.

These three statements cannot all be true.

Now, when you have statements that are logically exclusive, you cannot prove using just logic which of them is wrong. But you can, and I have, shown that one of them must be wrong. So I agree that there is an element of arbitrarinesss in my chosing the latter as the false statement. That is a personal choice. But you cannot logically state that all three statements are true. To do so is illogical, however much you may believe it.

What if one of the "fundamentalist Christians" to whom you referred elsewhere in your posting were to, in keeping with the earlier discussion about substance, subsistence, and the like, insist that your statement "a)" does not at all represent their position? What if they were to assert that Jesus and God were of but one primary substance so that Jesus was not a "separate being" relative to God? Would not the three statements you present then cohere logically while also more fully or accurately representing the position of the hypothetical "fundamentalist Christians"?

Michael

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That is to say, if it is not a fact of history and reality that God somehow became incarnate as the man Jesus, if it is a fact that God did not become incarnate as Jesus, then other than how some people regard Jesus as having a Divine nature, what other beliefs about God would also have to change?

I think there would be a massive change in traditional beliefs. If Jesus is not God incarnate, then what happens to the Trinity? If Jesus is not divine (in the Christian sense) then what happens to the entire traditional soteriology (i.e. God's act in salvation). After all, in my view, the atonement is a core principal in traditional Christianity. If Jesus is just another great prophet then how does he (without God's incarnation) atone for the sins of the world?

Now what I am talking about are traditional beliefs. Some Christian scholars would have no problem in loosing the incarnation as typically framed. As I have mentioned before, Marcus Borg, offers an alternative view that frames Christianity and soteriology around relationship concepts instead of propositional beliefs and even the literal divinity of Jesus.

It seems to me that the concept of the Trinity must be understood within the context of soteriological issues at the time it was formed, which I think were driven primarily by the supposed need for Jesus to be incarnate God. Much in Christian soteriology rests on concepts of sin and justice (just as in Judaism at the time). If Jesus was to atone for all sins, he must be the perfect sacrifice. If Jesus was just a man, albeit an extraordinary one, then how can he atone for the sins of the world.

Of course, if what I have remarked here is (first of all) sensible and (then) correct, what flaw is there in thinking about God in terms of an incarnation in Jesus?

A lot depends on what you mean by flaw? There certainly can be questions about coherency and consistency. There can be many questions raised by religious pluralism. The exclusivity of many Christian soteriological claims is a flaw for many adherents. Then if the incarnation means some cosmically unique event there is, at least in my view, a whole quagmire of theological flaws when one considers the possibility that there are many other life forms in the universe (but that's a whole other discussion).

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What if one of the "fundamentalist Christians" to whom you referred elsewhere in your posting were to, in keeping with the earlier discussion about substance, subsistence, and the like, insist that your statement "a)" does not at all represent their position? What if they were to assert that Jesus and God were of but one primary substance so that Jesus was not a "separate being" relative to God? Would not the three statements you present then cohere logically while also more fully or accurately representing the position of the hypothetical "fundamentalist Christians"?

Good point, if you deny that Jesus was a man, you can claim that Jesus Christ was part of the trinity. But I think that suggestion fails because:

John 1:14 says (NIV):

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."

It says "The Word became flesh", I.e. was a man. It is therefore unscriptural to suggest that Jesus was not a man. So I cannot see how a fundamentalist Christian can suggest that. But then, as I'm not a Christian, let alone a fundamentalist, I'm not in a position to verify that.

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If Jesus is not God incarnate, then what happens to the Trinity?

You could still have a Trinity, and discussion could still be conducted in terms of the three Divine Persons. After all, the Trinity section of the Athanasian Creed in particular makes no reference to Jesus or an Incarnation.

If Jesus is not divine (in the Christian sense) then what happens to the entire traditional soteriology (i.e. God's act in salvation). After all, in my view, the atonement is a core principal in traditional Christianity. If Jesus is just another great prophet then how does he (without God's incarnation) atone for the sins of the world?

If the soteriology is understood only in terms of there having to be a blood sacrifice before there can be salvation (given, of course, a condition of sin), then, if Jesus were not "divine (in the Christian sense)", salvation would not become possible. However, this notion of a prerequisite sacrifice is hardly indubitably necessary for there to be atonement (reconciliation) even given the assumption that God is actual and that sin is actual as well. You essentially hit upon this point when you note:

Some Christian scholars would have no problem in loosing the incarnation as typically framed. As I have mentioned before, Marcus Borg, offers an alternative view that frames Christianity and soteriology around relationship concepts instead of propositional beliefs and even the literal divinity of Jesus.

It seems to me that the concept of the Trinity must be understood within the context of soteriological issues at the time it was formed, which I think were driven primarily by the supposed need for Jesus to be incarnate God. Much in Christian soteriology rests on concepts of sin and justice (just as in Judaism at the time).

I agree that context is a very important consideration, and the interesting part of religious thought is in "concepts of sin and justice".

A lot depends on what you mean by flaw? There certainly can be questions about coherency and consistency. There can be many questions raised by religious pluralism. The exclusivity of many Christian soteriological claims is a flaw for many adherents. Then if the incarnation means some cosmically unique event there is, at least in my view, a whole quagmire of theological flaws when one considers the possibility that there are many other life forms in the universe (but that's a whole other discussion).

I agree with you about the potential for subsequent problems, and that is one reason why I strongly suggest that such things as the Trinity, the Incarnation, and Anselm's Ontological Argument (to name just a few issues) be considered as mere contexts or perspectives or starting points for deeper and more significant investigations.

Of course, I also think it worthwhile to develop within one's self a charity by which such concepts as the Trinity and the Incarnation can be made to seem more rational, logical, or meaningful than they might seem at first blush according to how such matters get expressed by the less philosophically sophisticated believers or by creeds.

Michael

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if you deny that Jesus was a man, you can claim that Jesus Christ was part of the trinity.

Of course, according to the creeds, Jesus was both Divine and man. Such a suggestion is preposterous and revolting to some theologies and philosophies, but I think one significant purpose of this asserted consubstantiation is to stress the nearness of God to man as well as the possibility that the natures of God and man are utterly compatible. Given certain Hellenistic perspectives that were influential if not prominent during the early years of Christianity, this claim that there was an Incarnation was a trumpeting announcement of an apparent revolution in the human perspective.

... It is therefore unscriptural ...

This, of course, opens the door to considerations about just how scripture is to be regarded, including whether it can be understood without interpretation. And, once scripture is subject to interpretation, then, as with everything else, how are we to know what interpretations (if any) are inerrant? The problem lies not with having to interpret but, rather, with too facilely attaining and asserting certainty (both subjective and allegedly objective).

Michael

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Of course, according to the creeds, Jesus was both Divine and man. Such a suggestion is preposterous and revolting to some theologies and philosophies...

That is precisely my point. The claim is philosophically unsound, because it fails the simple logic test that I gave. It cannot be true. This is not a matter of opinion, it is a matter of logic.

This, of course, opens the door to considerations about just how scripture is to be regarded, including whether it can be understood without interpretation. And, once scripture is subject to interpretation, then, as with everything else, how are we to know what interpretations (if any) are inerrant? The problem lies not with having to interpret but, rather, with too facilely attaining and asserting certainty (both subjective and allegedly objective).

Agreed.

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