The Trinity is a fascinating doctrine. It is important to always keep divine simplicity squarely in view when pondering the Trinity, in order to avoid slipping into idolatry.
I recently realised that the classic “Father, Son, Spirit” presentation of the Trinity is not the only possible way to speak of this divine mystery. In fact, this divine drama of the three and the one impresses itself upon our intellects in a wide variety of modes. In this post I will attempt to list as many of them as I can think of.
- The Scriptural presentation: The Father, the Son and the Spirit.
- The Relational model: The Lover, the Loved, and the Love.
- The Creational model: The uncreated creator, the one who is begotten, and the act of begetting/creating itself.
- The Salvific understanding: The saviour, the one who is saved, and the act of salvation itself.
- The Incarnational approach: The hidden and transcendent incarnator, the manifest and immanent incarnation, and the act by which this incarnation comes about.
- The Eternal Progressions view: the Static, simple immutable past; the dynamic, mutable future; and the lively freedom of the present moment.
- The Abstract/Concrete dichotomy: Being itself; an actual, specific being; and the divine movement by which Being itself gives rise to individual being.
- The Essence-Energies distinction: The concealed Essence, the revealed Energies, and the act of emanation by which Essence gives rise to Energy.
- The Eastern Wisdom formulation: Infinite Consciousness, Infinite Being, and the Infinite Bliss that is the act of Infinite Consciousness beholding Infinite Being.
- The Divine Vocalisation approach: The one who speaks, the eternal word who is spoken, and the act of speaking.
The fascinating thing about all of these is that due to divine simplicity the terms of the formulas are interchangeable: The Father is the lover is the saviour is the hidden incarnator is Being itself is Infinite Consciousness is the concealed Essence is the one who speaks. etc
In fact, you need only take the following generic Trinitarian dogmatic formula, and substitute in the words provided in the above list and in every case you will arrive at a statement of profound, deep truth about God.
- Hypostasis 1 is God.
- Hypostasis 2 is God.
- Hypostasis 3 is God.
- Hypostasis 1 is not Hypostasis 2.
- Hypostasis 2 is not Hypostasis 3.
- Hypostasis 3 is not Hypostasis 1.
- There is only one God.
To take but a single example:
- Consciousness is God.
- Being is God.
- Bliss is God.
- Consciousness is not Being.
- Being is not Bliss.
- Bliss is not Consciousness.
- There is only one God.
The father is infinite consciousness, the son is infinite being, the spirit is the infinite bliss of the infinite consciousness as it contemplates the infinite being.
I do not claim to have exhaustively enumerated all the different ways of conceiving of the Trinitarian dogma, and it is fascinating to attempt to take in all of these conceptions all at once. I find that I arrive at a place where words simply fail me and all I can do is worship in profound silence. The Trinity is a perfect object of meditation in which there bubbles up a fountain of ineffable Truth.
To pick another of the conceptions arbitrarily and elaborate upon it: The father is the hidden, simple, transcendent essence of divinity, while the son is the manifest, manifold, immanent energies, and the spirit is the act of the energies emanating from the essence. We participate in the energies (that is to say, Christ), and by participating in the energies we truly participate in the fullness of Divinity. The essence-energies distinction is therefore simply another way of framing the Trinitarian relationship of plurality in unity within God. Due to divine simplicity, the emanation is God, the energy is God, and the essence is God. We participate in the emanation and the essence, but only through participating in the energy.
To take another example: The father is the static, immutable, eternal past, the son is the dynamic, lively, unknown, temporal future with all of its possibilities, the spirit is the free movement of creating and giving birth of past to future, that is to say, the present. In the present moment we behold the Trinitarian relationship directly: by reflecting on our freedom and the creation that surrounds us, we are witnessing the hidden, immutable father freely creating the lively and dynamic son in whom we live and move and have our being, and this living and moving and having our being just is the Spirit. In this way the present moment represents a window into the dramatic, divine life of God: Just as it is only through Christ that we come to know the father, so too it is only through the present that we are able to know the past and anticipate the future.