05 December 2011

Why the Trinity?

From a paper I recently turned in.  (If you desire the specific articles referenced in what follows, please ask for them in the comments section)

The purpose of the doctrine of the Trinity is to make the God presented in the New Testament intelligible to Christians.  Efforts to interpret and appropriate the New Testament’s account of God find expression in the bedrock of the Christian baptismal formula: Father, Son and Holy Spirit (CCC§222; CF §7, §12). Explanations as to how the persons of the Trinity interact and are named are rooted in the East/West divide and the use of Greek philosophical terms; moreover, the terms themselves found their genesis as responses to new theological questions that emerged in the fourth century (LaCugna, 165)  Yet, it must be remembered that when Christians speak of the Trinity, they are not “point[ing] to a numerical mystery, but rather to name the God who redeems us in Christ and deifies us through the Holy Spirit” (161). 
Recalling the basic reason of the Trinity – intelligibility – reminds us why the doctrine remains important for contemporary Christianity; the result of ignorance of the Trinity is a warping of the Godhead, culminating in theism guilty of an overly optimistic epistemology (Crowe, 300). Thus, the Trinity reminds us that “God is not alone; He is communion” (Zizioulas, 56).  God exists in relationship to God’s own self and to creation.  Thus, humanity is given a model for its own relationships: one of complete communion, “without deprivation or domination” (cf. definition of David Couturier).  The Trinity also prevents a “two-fold distortion” of Jesus that eliminates the role of the Holy Spirit (Crowe, 303; 312).  Distinguishing the persons of the Trinity prevents an appropriation of Jesus to our particular situations replete with our desired answers (i.e. Jesus as a monk, a social organizer) (297ff).  The Trinity is thus the antidote to the heurism phrased “What Would Jesus Do?”  Incorrect blending of the Son and Holy Spirit results in a warping of the historical kenosis that took place in the Incarnation; in this case, the historical restraints of the Jesus event are ignored, as is the presence of the Holy Spirit among us (312).  Without the Trinity, we would, quite plainly, be left without the Christian God.


PJA said...

I like this! I just handed in a paper on Man's place in "engaging" this relationship, this communion we see in the Trinity, using what I found in Ratzinger's theology/ ecclesiology. Good to see some overlap here--assures me that I probably didn't miss the whole point and end up blaspheming!

Anthony Zuba said...

Most of this I can follow. But I do not understand what is the "two-fold distortion" of Jesus that you cite. Can you elaborate on this idea and further explain what a trinitarian theism has to do with preventing ahistorical/unhistorical appropriations of Jesus that thwart a true encounter with Christ?

mtjofmcap said...

The two-fold distortion is:

1) the classic 19th century conundrum of the historical Jesus: von Harnack looking down into the well of history and seeing a reflection of Jesus that looked remarkably like himself. (You can likely fill in an entire host of characters into this model, those proposing both "liberal" and "conservative" readings of the Gospels.) Moreover, the unhistorical appropriation of Jesus eliminates the necessity of their being a Holy Spirit.

This necessity flows into the second reason: if the Word indeed became flesh, and there was a kenosis, then Jesus of Nazareth would be limited by limited in a real sense by history. That being said, the Resurrection accounts agree that after this event (which I'd call historical), Jesus ascended so that he no longer was physically present to the disciples. Yet, Jesus did promise the Spirit and this is the Spirit happened at Pentecost. Thus, again, we not only protect the humanness of Jesus, but also engage the Holy Spirit in our own present historical reality.

PJA said...

That being said, I think you not only touch on how Jesus is preserved, but also how the Spirit is preserved in a historical Trinitarian concept. So, would you agree: The Holy spirit exists essentially (in of his being) as relation. Both the Father and the Son are in of themselves "holy" and "spirit" as well, for they are God. But the Holy Spirit is just that, the relationship between the Father and the Son, communion. Thus he is the gift (donum; necque natus... necque factus)of this relationship, especially as it is given to man, allowing man to participate in this communion. That gift comes to us through Christ, his sacrifice, his Church... so to conflate Son and Spirit into one persona would deny the Kenosis, Jesus' intrinsic office as mediator (because he would become unrelatable to man had he not "emptied" himself), and undermine the Third persona, making him into an ethereal part of the Son and not standing in himself as gift. Recognizing the Third persona as both a third persona and the communion of the personae allows him to be understood as the gift (just as much today as on Pentecost) of this communion to man, as mediated through the infinitely human, infinitely divine Jesus.

mtjofmcap said...


Anthony Zuba said...

Now I understand the distortion. But I'm still not sure how getting the Trinity right curbs our tendency to see our own face in the face of Jesus instead of the face of God. Seeing only the Jesus you want to see is a sin, not an error.

An incorrigible unitarian can affirm on the one hand that Jesus of Nazareth was limited by history, and on the other hand that this same Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1) without conflation of his human-divine person with the Spirit.

Without a doubt, Jesus of Nazareth was not a monk or a community organizer. But the Spirit of God that filled Jesus, Christ gave, and it has also filled many monks and community organizers so that we can recognize in their faces, those obediently set like flint (Isaiah 50:7), something like the true face of Jesus.