What is the Trinity?
From the human perspective, it is easy to identify the three persons named in the Scripture, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as three beings but is this the reality? In our world, one person is equated with one being, but the Scripture does not suggest this within the Trinity. Instead, careful interpretation of Scripture suggests that the three persons of the Trinity are of one being. This is difficult for us to comprehend how the mechanics of the Godhead allows this reality, but we can accept it as it is not of our simpler world on Earth, but the transcendent spiritual realm. If we lived in a two-dimensional world, it would be difficult to comprehend a third-dimensional object as it includes a dimension that our knowledge lacks tangible observation. Instead, a two-dimensional world would only comprehend the three-dimensional through an infinite set of cross-sections that compose the object. When all cross-sections are considered, some understanding is produced, but it remains alien to the restricted knowledge of the two-dimensional world.
The Trinity is the community that composes the Godhead, consisting of three distinct persons, who coexist in nature and substance. The persons or not created, but came from God, eternally existing. The Trinity, which is God, exists because God exists, and God exists because the Trinity exists; however, this is not to imply that God and the Trinity are different things, but that God is is the being composed of the Trinity. It is difficult to describe the Trinity beyond these words as human understanding breaks down due to a lack of similar observations in our lives that would allow comparison to be drawn from, and our language becomes a limiting factor to our ability to describe the nature of God. We are constrained by different laws than God, so any human-created description of God comes from a subordinate realm.
For many people, this description may require multiple readings to comprehend, and even then, it is difficult to imagine what was just described. It is this very issue that was faced in the early Christian church. Many competing theologies were born with different interpretations of the relationship between the three persons. The Arians were heterousians, which states that the Son was of a different essence from the Father. Others believed in modalist views, that stated there is one person of God, but revealed in three modes (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). It is actually quite natural to think in such a way as it is comparable to our daily lives—a person can both be a parent, a business executive, and a golfer. While that person is but one being, they have multiple modes in which they can act, but Scripture provides us understanding that there are three distinct persons in the Trinity. The homoousians and homoiousians are fairly similar to each other, one believing that the Father and Son are of the same substance and the other being of similar substance, respectively. Because of such varied views, the Nicene Creed was developed to declare a unified theological belief in the church, although some dissented. Today, it is the most commonly held declaration regarding the Trinity, while some continue to dissent.
We believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven;
he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,
and was made human.
He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried.
The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again with glory
to judge the living and the dead.
His kingdom will never end.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit,The Nicene Creed
the Lord, the giver of life.
He proceeds from the Father and the Son,
and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.
He spoke through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,
and to life in the world to come. Amen.
The Cappadocians contributed to the Christian understanding of the Trinity by identifying the shortcomings of language. They established new terminology to aid in the description: hypostasis and ousia to describe the singular substance, or essence, of the three persons in the Trinity. While many were able to agree upon the relationship between the Father and Son, differing views arose regarding the Holy Spirit. The Pneumatomachians believe that the Holy Spirit is but an angel, not of the same substance as the Father or Son. Further synods and councils met to decide upon this issue as well, with most Christians holding that the Holy Spirit is inseparable from the substance of the Father and Son.
It is important for us to know at least some of the information regarding the many theologies within Christianity. While there are many issues that we can consider “secondary,” the nature of the Trinity is not one of them. It is of utmost importance for a Christian to recognize that the Trinity is one, shown in three persons, of the same substance and essence. The Trinity is eternal because God is eternal. Jesus Christ, who was before creation, came to Earth as a man, to be the propitiation for our sins, died and rose on the third day, now sits at the right hand of the Father, acting as our High Priest. To believe otherwise is heretical, and will greatly pervert the meaning and intention of Scripture.
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic* church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
*catholic means universal, not the Roman Catholic ChurchThe Apostles’ Creed