‘Church-speak’ often uses “the doctrine of the Trinity” as an abstract way of describing what we mean when we say that we believe in three persons in one God.

In ordinary language, "person" describes an individual as one who acts as a center of conscious and free activity. But that is not what the Trinity of persons in God means. God is single and unique so the "persons" of God do not act as separate individuals. There is, in God, a single consciousness and a single freedom, not three of each. The concept of "three persons in one God" is hard to grasp.

The Nicene Creed tries to explain the trinity with the following language, 

I believe in one God,

the Father almighty,

maker of heaven and earth…

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,

the only-begotten Son of God,

begotten of the Father before all worlds,

And I believe in the Holy Ghost,

the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son…

…but may end up contributing to the confusion. It is a mystery of faith: something we hold as true without being able to explain.

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It remains easier for most of us to consider three distinct persons… old man with a white beard, Jesus from Nazareth and a dove or flame… than it is the one God.

St. Patrick allegedly used a three leafed shamrock as a symbol of the trinity. The artist, Doris McCarthy, (also a member of St. Aidan’s) created a trinitarian wall hanging for St. James Cathedral in Toronto, based on a triangle. Others talk about water in its three stages of vapor, liquid and ice as a way of representing the three persons in one God. Each of these images…shamrock, triangle, water… help us imagine trinitarian unity.

The challenge of each of these analogies is that they are about inanimate objects rather than a person.

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Try thinking of the trinitarian unity as a relationship by considering how we know someone. The sound of the person’s voice, the sight of their smiling face or the touch of their hand is each an expression of the same person but is a distinct perception. The different modes each represent one person.

Alternatively, the relationship could be based on a sweet memory, a consideration of how that person would approach a challenging situation, or a particular articulation of wisdom. The different recollections of the one person affect our emotions, our ways of acting or our ways of thinking. The trinity might be analogous.

Thinking of a relationship is preferable because we also say that our God is a person, not an inanimate force. Despite the fact that this person is eternal, creator of heaven and earth, s/he reaches out to touch each of us, personally, each moment of the day.

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Now consider God as, sort of, your “DNA”. (After all, we say that we are formed in the image of God. Gen 1:27). This God is part of your essential makeup, invisible to sight, not accessible to one’s senses, yet an integral part of your being.

God expresses him/herself in the way you look, in how you walk and the potential you have. You become, like Jesus, the human expression of the Father’s love and the Spirit’s animation. In a sense you are trinitarian. And, as an expression of God, each of us is part of God’s mission to the whole earth and everything that is on it.

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We know that God has acted in history and we sometimes experience God acting in our lives today. Our challenge remains: how to connect with these three persons in one God…and to represent them to ourselves and to others.

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  • What concept of the three-persons-in-one-God is your favourite?
  • Do you think of the relationship to the trinitarian God as  personal?
  • Can you stretch yourself to imagine that you are an expression of the trinitarian God?

Peace

Michael