On the Necessity of the Trinity

The first and deepest mystery of the Christian faith is the Trinity.

It is a mystery because we can never fully understand it: we have 3 distinct Persons in One God.  The Father is not the Son, neither of Them are the Holy Spirit, but They are all one in Being and thus only One God.

Some people become very uncomfortable talking about the theology of the Trinity because it bends the mind and tries to put an infinite mystery into the finite human brain.  But as mysterious as this is, the Trinity is the only mode of being that could exist if God exists.  

This is based on two things that exist in the universe: persons and love.

First of all, Trinity makes clear that God is Person and not object.  St. Thomas Aquinas describes God as Existence Itself.  He is that which exists as part of His nature.  He even said of Himself that His name Is “I Am Who Am.”  All that exists in this universe gets its existence from Him.  Many Eastern religions view this ultimate reality as an impersonal force, like the Brahman in Hinduism.  But the problem with that is that personhood exists in this universe.  

No greater thing can come from a lesser thing.  A poem can only come from something greater than the poem, i.e. a mind.  But a poem cannot produce a person.  A stone cannot make a man, but a man can make a stone (at least in the kidneys).  Some may point to evolution as a random collection of lesser things becoming greater things, and eventually persons.  But that only works if you believe in Intelligent Design, where a greater mind shaped lesser minds.  If Darwin is correct, personhood is not better than inanimate existence, it simply happens to persist here.  But we intuitively understand that self-aware existence is better (in general) than unconscious inanimate existence.  And this personhood we receive cannot come from something less than a Person.

Another thing about persons is that they must be in relation to others.  What is the good of having a mind if there is no one with whom to share your thoughts?  I often point to the Tom Hanks character in Cast Away.  He is so alone that he has to create another person just so he could be in relation to another in Wilson the volleyball.  Our personhood is defined by our relationships.  Think about what we have carved on our tombstones.  Does it say, “Here lies Johnny X: World Record Holder in Pole Position on the Atari 2600?”  No.  It says, “Here lies Johnathon X: Devoted Husband, Loving Father.”

And so too God is also defined (if you could define God) by His relationships.  He is “the Father” because of “the Son.”  And this only makes sense if God is Love.

Like personhood, love exists in this universe.  And it would be incredibly strange for something as powerful as love to be merely a product of evolution.  We love for more than advantage.  We love those who cannot help us or help the species.  And we regard love as innately noble and admirable.  It is higher than the things of this universe.  And again, you cannot get a higher thing from a lesser thing.

Love requires more than one person.  If God is only one person, God could not, at root, be Love.  We could say He is loving or filled with love if there was only one person.  But the Scriptures are clear that love is not simply a quality that God has, but “God is love.”  That is impossible for one person, with God sitting up there in eternity going, “I love myself, I love myself…”

And it must also be clear that the universe is not a necessary thing.  I make this point, because God could be understood as love by being in relation to other persons in the universe.  But He existed before all things.  And even then, before we were in existence, His nature was love.

In order for God’s nature to be love, He has to be more than one person, because that is what love is: self donation.  The highest and deepest love is agape, which is complete and utter self-giving.  This is what we pledge to each other in marriage when we promise to be true in good times and in bad.  This is the love parents when they understand their lives are now bound up completely in the making sure their children are happy.

And that is what God does.  He donates His entire self. And from Him is begotten God the Son.  The Son is as much God as God the Father because the Father, in love, has given everything of Himself to the Son.  The Father has fully communicated everything that He is to a perfect reflection in the Son.  There is no greater and more complete expression of a mind and heart than the Son is from the Father.  That is why the Son of God is also the Word of God.  And Word was with God.  And the Word was God.

Only now, with these 2 Persons, can we see how God is love can truly take shape.  And since the Son is a perfect reflection of the Father, He will love the Father with the same intensity and self-donation that the Father has for the Son.  And that love between the Father and Son is so real, so intense, and so powerful that this love is alive!  This love is a Person!  And we call this Person the Holy Spirit.  

If the Son’s love is as life-giving and powerful as the Father’s, then both of their self-donated love should be reflected in this Holy Spirit.  And because God is Love and the bond between Father and Son is a complete donation of the self to the other, then this Holy Spirit, this love bond, must be just as much God as the Father and the Son.  And as love is about drawing the Persons together, they are unified in a complete co-mingling that holds them as One in Being.  They are so united in love that you cannot separate them and nothing can overcome it.  Hence 3 Persons in One God.

As you can see, the Trinity is not merely a complex mysterious dogma.  It is a necessary fact of existence.

Copyright 2015, W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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