by James VanGundy
April 30, 1974
The first time the "Trinity" was used in referring to God can not be exactly pinpointed. Apparently, it is not an important article of Christian faith because God Himself did not see fit to move upon any of the many writers of the Bible to include it in the text of His holy Word. Nevertheless, many supposed Christian scholars have used the word "Trinity". Some poor misguided souls have even gone so far as to say that God's name is Trinity (1). Theologians have, throughout the centuries, thoroughly examined the idea of a Trinitarian God and have written many books on the subject. However, their ideas usually become as the vain babblings which the Apostle Paul warned Timothy to shun (2). These vanities present a potential danger, though, because "heresy arises from words wrongly used" (3).
Before the time of Christ, Plato developed the system of Logos, or the First Cause. Logos consisted of "three Principles represented as three Gods which are unified by a mysterious and ineffable generation " (4). This idea was later brought into Christianity as the basis of the Trinitarian doctrine. Supposedly, it was confirmed in the first part of Apostle John's Gospel in the bible. These verses, however, contradict Trinitarianism instead of supporting it. John asserts that the Word, which refers to God's plans and instruction for man, was perceived by God -- without mention of divine plurality -- before Creation (5).
Influenced by the Platonic system of Logos, Christianity was soon divided between three different conceptions of the Trinity. The one generally accepted at the Nicene Council in 325 A.D. was tritheism, which bore the greatest resemblance to Logos (6). In order to reconcile it to a monotheistic Christianity, Athanasius, the patriarch of Alexandria at that time, defined tritheism as "three co-eternal and co-equal beings which work together in one will " (7). Such a definition does not present the picture of one God, but rather three Gods working together in unison toward the same goals. The Bible, however, clearly indicates that there is only one god. Ephesians 4:5 reads "One Lord, one faith, one baptism " (8). Bother Deuteronomy 6:4 and Mark 12:29 state "The Lord our God is one Lord " (9). Even the devils believe in one God and tremble (10). But Augustine, the bishop of Hippo (in northern Africa) during the late fourth and early fifth centuries, claims that the Trinity is one God by reason of the "indivisible divine substances " (11). However, the problem with this claim lies in the words "co-eternal" and "co-equal". The prefix "co-" denotes a plural relationship between separate things, yet Boethius, a Roman philosopher, says (De Trin. IV) "Relation in the Trinity of the Father to the Son, and of both to the Holy Ghost, is the relation of the same to the same " (12). Boethius apparently wished to emphasize the singular nature of God. It is illogical to assume that a plural relationship can exist in that which is singular because of the peculiar nature of their definitions.
One of the most erroneous weaknesses in the Trinitarian doctrine presented at Nice was exposed by the teachings of Arius. Arius, a Greek theologian, taught that the Son differs from the Father and is actually inferior to the Father (13). This obviously contradicts the Bible as Jesus once said "I and my Father are one " (14). Therefore, the Son can not differ from the Father because the son and the Father are the same. The derivation of a ridiculous doctrine such as that of Arius is not unfathomable when the definition of the Trinity itself implies plurality in the God instead of oneness. A more monotheistic aspect of the Trinity is revealed in the teachings of Sabellius, a Roman Christian theologian of the third century. This man believed that "God the Father is called the son in assuming flesh from the Virgin, and that the Father is called the Holy Ghost in sanctifying the rational creature and moving it to life " (15). Opponents of Sabellius may have brought up the question of whom did Jesus pray to at Gethsemane. This, nevertheless, can be logically explained by the fact that Jesus was God manifest in the flesh (16). It was simply a case of his flesh praying to the God that abode within him for strength because Jesus himself once said, "The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak " (17). However, the teaching of Sabellius were set aside in favor of the more polytheistic doctrine of Athanasius.
Other theologians create further confusion as they elaborate on the many intricate facets of the Trinitarian doctrine. For example, Thomas Aquinas, and Italian scholastic philosopher, exhorts Christians to avoid the Sabellian heresy by shunning the term "singularity" from God because it takes away "the communicability of divine essence" (18). Also, Christians should avoid the Arian heresy by shunning the use of "diversity and difference" in God because it takes away from His "unity of essence" (19). Hilary, the bishop of Poitiers circa 367 A.D., thus concludes that, "We serve neither a solitary nor a diverse God" (20). This statement, though, rules out the possibilities of either one or more than one God. The only conclusion left would be that there is no God. But this, too, is wrong. Psalms 53:1 reads, "The fool has said in his heart, There is no God " (21). Christianity itself was founded on the belief in one God. Religion can not exist with a God.
The definition of the word "person", which is usually used in defining the Trinity, also is debatable. Noah Webster defines it as, when pertaining to theology, one of the three modes of being in the Trinity. This definition is hardly sufficient. John Milton, an English Puritan poet, views the three persons as three separate Gods (22). But such is unacceptable in a monotheistic Christianity. Thomas Hobbes, an English social philosopher, defined "person" as "he that is represented". He believed that the persons in the Trinity are the persons of "one and the same God" but are represented in three different times and occasions (23). Since Hobbe's definition implies both monotheism and that there is absolutely no difference at all between the three persons, it is acceptable to Christian thought.
The term "Trinity" obviously invokes many ideas about God. Unfortunately, most of these constitute false assumptions about Him. But God makes it clear in His Word that He is one God. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are only titles referring to different divine manifestations. They are not different Gods. A man can be a father, son, brother, uncle, etc. and still be one man. So is it with God. Jesus did not tell his disciples to baptize people in the name of the Trinity. Nor did He tell his disciples to baptize by repeating "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.: He told them to baptize in the "name" -- only one name -- to which these titles refer to (24).
When pondering the nature of God, one must never forget simplicity. That is to avoid any confusion. A definition must not be full of words which on the surface seem to indicate one thing, but have a completely different true meaning. Otherwise, confusion will run rampant and errors will creep in. The term "Trinity" seems to fit such a description. It was probably originated to refer to the three divine manifestations; however, it apparently has been twisted to denote three Gods. Thus, to keep with the Christian belief in one God, it must be concluded that the term "Trinity" should not be used in reference to God.
1.... Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, p. 208
2.... KJV Holy Bible, I Timothy 6:20
3.... Aquinas, p. 172
4.... Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, p. 307
5.... KJV Holy Bible, John 1:1-5
6.... Gibbon, p. 311
7.... Gibbon, p. 310
8.... KJV Holy Bible, Ephesians 4:5
9.... KJV Holy Bible, Deuteronomy 6:4, Mark 12:29
10.. KJV Holy Bible, James 2:10
11.. Agustine, The City of God, p. 335
12.. Aquinas, p. 157
13.. Gibbon, p. 439
14.. KJV Holy Bible, John 10:30
15.. Aquinas, p. 153
16.. KJV Holy Bible, I Timothy 3:16
17.. KJV Holy Bible, Mark 12:38
18.. Aquinas, p. 173
19.. Aquinas, p. 172
20.. Aquinas, p. 173
21.. KJV Holy Bible, Psalms 53:1
22.. John Milton, Paradise Lost, p. 135
23.. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, p. 207-208
24.. KJV Holy Bible, Matthew 28:19
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Created 12/18/96. Last Updated: 12/18/96