Questions for Christians and other theists, part 8: the Trinity

One of the strangest doctrines in all of Christianity is the doctrine of the Trinity. This doctrine holds that there are three divine persons — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost — yet only one deity. Each of the three persons is fully God, and not just a part of God. A famous diagram known as the “Shield of the Trinity” compactly summarizes the idea:


The Trinity doesn’t make much sense, and many Christians recognize this. What most of us would call absurd they call a mystery, meaning something that is known to be true through revelation but cannot be demonstrated by mere human reason.

Some questions for the Christians out there:

1. Do you accept the doctrine of the Trinity?
2. Do you recognize the absurdity of it?
3. Do you deal with the absurdity by declaring it a “mystery”?

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235 thoughts on “Questions for Christians and other theists, part 8: the Trinity

  1. keiths:

    Charlie believes that God is both ineffable and beyond human understanding.

    Alan:

    And is that so terrible?

    No.

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  2. keiths:
    J-Mac:

    Holiness is a warm bomb.

    More…
    If you created nuclear furnaces, like the Sun, should I expect you to be ice-cold, like our admins, or Darwinists, and their god natural selection?

    Think keiths! Think!
    You are the only one doing it, you and Harshman 😊

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  3. Charlie,

    The ineffable may be beyond words but the reflection is there for us to discuss. We cannot safely look directly at the sun but there are ways around this we can take advantage of.

    If the reflection carries intelligible and true information about God, then God isn’t really ineffable. If the information is false, then anything you say about God is pure jabbering.

    If you give up the idea that God is ineffable, the problem is solved. Why not take advantage of such an obvious solution?

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  4. keiths:
    Charlie,

    If the reflection carries intelligible and true information about God, then God isn’t really ineffable.If the information is false, then anything you say about God is pure jabbering.

    If you give up the idea that God is ineffable, the problem is solved.Why not take advantage of such an obvious solution?

    Sorry keiths, but this is not going to work…
    Btw: I’m going for a social dystance biking…while it’s still allowed…😊

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  5. Charlie,

    If the spiritual realm is beyond human understanding, how do you decide whether a given statement or idea about God is true or not? Especially when the idea is incoherent, like the Trinity.

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  6. J-Mac: One of the examples comes to mind, from “the one man’s religion book”, when Moses asked God to see His glory,but wasn’t allowed to see God’s face…

    Ex 33:18_23

    18Then Moses said, “Please show me Your glory.” 19“I will cause all My goodness to pass in front of you,” the LORD replied, “and I will proclaim My name— the LORD— before you. I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 20But He added, “You cannot see My face, for no one can see Me and live.”…
    21The LORD continued, “There is a place near Me where you are to stand upon a rock, 22and when My glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. 23Then I will take My hand away, and you will see My back; but My face must not be seen.”…23Then I will take My hand away, and you will see My back; but My face must not be seen.”

    It seems obvious God had only one face, not faces, and Moses couldn’t even look directly at God’s glory… It reminds me about alerts during the cold war not to look at the nuclear bomb mushrooms…

    From Hymns to the Night, by Novalis

    The love is given freely,
    And Separation is no more.
    The whole life heaves and surges
    Like a sea without a shore.
    Just one night of bliss —
    One everlasting poem —
    And the sun we all share
    Is the face of God.

    ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA:

    Hymns to the Night), six prose poems interspersed with verse. In this work Novalis celebrates night, or death, as an entry into a higher life in the presence of God and anticipates a mystical and loving union with Sophie and with the universe as a whole after his own death.

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  7. keiths:
    J-Mac,

    Because?

    Because the Trinity supporters will always use excuses, like Darwinists with omnipotence of natural selection…
    Both are incomprehensible…😊

    Sorry…
    I’m on my way out…

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  8. CharlieM: From Hymns to the Night, by Novalis

    The love is given freely,
    And Separation is no more.
    The whole life heaves and surges
    Like a sea without a shore.
    Just one night of bliss —
    One everlasting poem —
    And the sun we all share
    Is the face of God.

    ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA:

    Huh?

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  9. keiths:

    Charlie,

    The ineffable may be beyond words but the reflection is there for us to discuss. We cannot safely look directly at the sun but there are ways around this we can take advantage of.

    If the reflection carries intelligible and true information about God, then God isn’t really ineffable. If the information is false, then anything you say about God is pure jabbering.

    If you give up the idea that God is ineffable, the problem is solved. Why not take advantage of such an obvious solution?

    It was you who first brought up the phrase, “God is ineffable”, when you wrote:

    If you were true to the “God is ineffable” idea, then you would cease to make any statements at all about him.

    The closest I had come to this was when I wrote:

    The problem with the figure in the op is that within it is written “God is”. This creates a problem because people take this to be a definition. But we cannot define the indefinable.

    When we use words to describe entities we are already on the path to ambiguity. Truths that we experience within, we find ourselves unable to express outwardly. The written word is a dead image of the living meaning which can only be kept alive in the mind.

    As Steiner said

    There is undoubtedly in the depths of men’s souls a tendency towards truth and, consequently, the urge to speak the truth. But it is just when we are most determined to speak the truth, and then reflect upon how to do it, that we begin to realise the powerlessness of the human body in face of Divine Truth. The moment you practise self-examination in respect of speaking, you will discover a very remarkable fact. The poet felt it when he wrote the words: ‘When the soul speaks, alas, the soul no longer speaks.’ On the way to the point where what we experience in our inmost soul as truth becomes articulate language, truth is already blunted. It is not yet completely killed in spoken language, but it is already blunted. Anyone who understands what language is, knows that proper nouns alone, which relate exclusively to one particular thing, are true designations of that thing. As soon as we use generalised expressions, be they substantives, verbs or adjectives, we are no longer giving utterance to the full truth.

    What is it about God that is ineffable? It is ‘I AM’. When a person utters these words it can only be in reference to herself or himself and no other. This is the unutterable name of God. We can all agree to use the same names for any object or entity we like, but the word ‘I’ cannot be used in common like all those other words. You,I and everyone else can write ‘triangle’ as a common referent. It is otherwise when we write, ‘I’.

    This is so obvious that many people think that it is trivial. It isn’t.

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  10. CharlieM:

    What is it about God that is ineffable? It is ‘I AM’. When a person utters these words it can only be in reference to herself or himself and no other. This is the unutterable name of God. We can all agree to use the same names for any object or entity we like, but the word ‘I’ cannot be used in common like all those other words. You,I and everyone else can write ‘triangle’ as a common referent. It is otherwise when we write, ‘I’.

    This is so obvious that many people think that it is trivial. It isn’t.

    No way is it trivial. After all, Popeye says “I am what I am”, and Popeye certainly isn’t trivial.

    Seriously, the word ‘I’ is an indexical — a word whose meaning changes depending on the speaker. Not trivial, but no great shakes either.

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  11. CharlieM:

    It was you who first brought up the phrase, “God is ineffable”…

    You agreed with it and tried to defend it.

    My point is that you can’t have it both ways. If God is ineffable, then anything we say about him is pure jabber. Only if he’s not ineffable can we say anything at all about him.

    I asked above:

    If you give up the idea that God is ineffable, the problem is solved. Why not take advantage of such an obvious solution?

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  12. Charlie,

    I’m still interested in your answer to this question:

    If the spiritual realm is beyond human understanding, how do you decide whether a given statement or idea about God is true or not? Especially when the idea is incoherent, like the Trinity?

    That question gets at the central theme of this thread, which is to understand how Christians justify their belief in the Trinity.

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  13. keiths: Seriously, the word ‘I’ is an indexical — a word whose meaning changes depending on the speaker. Not trivial, but no great shakes either.

    Being able to say ‘I am’ is the most treasured gift we have, but also burdens us with the greatest individual responsibility. Daffodils can do nothing but be true to their nature laid out Our egos allow us a freedom unsurpassed by any other living organism. I’d say its shakes are very great indeed. Look at the trajectory of the power we have to shake the planet, from the first rifle shot to the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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  14. keiths:

    CharlieM:

    It was you who first brought up the phrase, “God is ineffable”…

    You agreed with it and tried to defend it.

    I discussed the phrase “God is ineffable”, and the general inability we have to translate inner convictions into words. I should have used quotation marks to clarify my meaning, i.e.:

    ‘God is ineffable’. ‘God is indefinable’. How can we use these words to describe God when the very process of using them contradicts their own meaning?

    My point is that there are aspects of God that are beyond the power of words to convey.

    keiths My point is that you can’t have it both ways. If God is ineffable, then anything we say about him is pure jabber. Only if he’s not ineffable can we say anything at all about him.

    I asked above:

    If you give up the idea that God is ineffable, the problem is solved. Why not take advantage of such an obvious solution?

    In a letter to Jacobi Goethe wrote

    Men are united by convictions ; they are separated by opinions. The former are units in which we come together, the latter are manifolds in which we become dispersed The friendships of our youth are founded on the former; our differences in an advanced age are due to the latter. As to myself I can not, considering the diverse directions of my nature, be satisfied with one way of thinking. As a poet and artist I am polytheistic, as a naturalist I am pantheistic, and I am the one as decidedly as the other. In case I needed a God for my personality as a moral being, I should be provided therewith. Heavenly and earthly things comprise such a wide realm that they can be covered only by the activity of all taken together.

    In the poem, ‘Antepirrhema’ he says

    Behold how nature all achieves,
    How masterly her work she weaves.
    One treadle holds thousands of threads connected.
    Her shuttles hither and thither are flung.
    The fibers in both directions strung,
    And thousand transactions at once are perfected.

    This she has not by chance combined.
    But from eternity designed.
    So the eternal master may
    His web and woof with surety lay.

    Nature in God, God in Nature. He could see unity in multiplicity and multiplicity in unity. One whole, two aspects.

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  15. keiths: Charlie,

    I’m still interested in your answer to this question:

    If the spiritual realm is beyond human understanding, how do you decide whether a given statement or idea about God is true or not? Especially when the idea is incoherent, like the Trinity?

    That question gets at the central theme of this thread, which is to understand how Christians justify their belief in the Trinity.

    I do not believe the spiritual realm to be beyond human understanding.

    We believe that we enter this world as separate individuals, whereas in actual fact we are much more connected with the wholeness that is reality.

    My understanding has evolved as I developed and hopefully will continue to do so. Over the course of my life so far I have gained an ever increasing understanding of reality by making the connections which, like a jigsaw puzzle, increasingly clarifies the picture of reality which I hold in my mind.

    I first hear a wren singing deep within a thicket, Another time I see a wren flitting around the bushes. Later on I actually see the wren sitting on a branch and singing. What I first experienced as unconnected sense impressions now becomes united. In the future when I see a wren or just hear one, I can know that the source is the whole being that is the wren.

    My journey towards reality is made up of having these individual experiences and giving them their place in a consistent whole. Why should I believe that there are limits to understanding? My current understanding may be extremely limited, but it is gaining ground. Why should I who professes ignorance in my current understanding, set any limits to future understanding? I cannot set a boundary. If I lack an understanding of the terrain then I cannot set a boundary therein.

    Therefore I cannot agree that the spiritual realm is beyond human understanding. All we can know is that the understanding of each one of us is finite. We each know our own understanding, we know what we know and no more (although it could be and usually is less). But we should also know that this is not static, it is capable of being expanded.

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  16. CharlieM,

    You did indeed use the word ‘ineffable’ in your comments about God. I’ve already given you one example. Here’s another:

    keiths:

    Is there a Trinity? You have no idea, because God is ineffable.

    CharlieM:

    We are supposedly made in the image of God so it does no harm to reflect on this connection.

    St Paul said, “for now we see through a glass, darkly”. I could go even further and say I see in a mirror darkly.

    The ineffable may be beyond words but the reflection is there for us to discuss. We cannot safely look directly at the sun but there are ways around this we can take advantage of.

    Again, to solve the problem, why not simply affirm that God is not ineffable?

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  17. Charlie,

    Let me see if I can put my question in less evadeable terms:

    If certain aspects of God are beyond human understanding, how do you decide whether a given statement or idea about God is true? Especially when the idea is incoherent, like the Trinity?

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  18. keiths: CharlieM,

    You did indeed use the word ‘ineffable’ in your comments about God. I’ve already given you one example. Here’s another:

    keiths:

    Is there a Trinity? You have no idea, because God is ineffable.

    CharlieM:

    We are supposedly made in the image of God so it does no harm to reflect on this connection.

    St Paul said, “for now we see through a glass, darkly”. I could go even further and say I see in a mirror darkly.

    The ineffable may be beyond words but the reflection is there for us to discuss. We cannot safely look directly at the sun but there are ways around this we can take advantage of.

    Again, to solve the problem, why not simply affirm that God is not ineffable?

    I stated a truism that the ineffable is beyond words.

    I believe that there are aspects of God, of the Divine, that are beyond words, beyond definition. But I do not believe that God, the Godhead, the Divine (as I struggle to find words that will convey meaning of something without limit) is totally transcendent. This ‘undefinable whatever’, from my point of view, is both immanent and transcendent.

    Even when we use the word ‘beyond’ we are talking relativity in time and space. All I can do is admit my limitations at this time. To believe in the Father is to believe in the spiritual realm. To believe in the Son is to believe in the reality of Christ’s manifestation in the body of Jesus of Nazareth in the earthly realm. To believe in the Holy Spirit is to believe in the ever present spiritual realm, as Goethe calls it, the Eternal Feminine.

    It is not always easy to put into words things that are revealed to us. How many wrens had hopped about before humans attached names to them? Languages come and go but reality is beyond our words. Reality is ineffable. Words are not lasting reality but they give us paths through which we can find reality. But only if we can find our way past them and not get tangled up in their convolutions.

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  19. keiths: Charlie,

    Let me see if I can put my question in less evadeable terms:

    If certain aspects of God are beyond human understanding, how do you decide whether a given statement or idea about God is true? Especially when the idea is incoherent, like the Trinity?

    I can only go on what appears to be true from my perspective given what I know and believe. I have tried to explain what the trinity means to me, but I know that not everyone sees it this way. Given my belief in a higher reality and my understanding of our limitations, the Trinity does seem coherent to me.

    Although any sect or religious that stipulated I must believe in certain tenets would be inconsistent with my beliefs.

    If the incarnation of Christ did actually happen and the experiences of St. Paul are basically true, then the Trinity is coherent in my understanding.

    If I am to understand anything about God then I must understand Christ first. The latter task is more than enough for me at the moment.

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  20. Charlie,

    You seem to be resistant to stating that God is not ineffable, but I don’t understand why. Your statements indicate that you agree:

    I believe that there are aspects of God, of the Divine, that are beyond words, beyond definition. But I do not believe that God, the Godhead, the Divine (as I struggle to find words that will convey meaning of something without limit) is totally transcendent.

    CharlieM:

    Reality is ineffable.

    Here we go again. 🙂

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  21. Charlie,

    Given my belief in a higher reality and my understanding of our limitations, the Trinity does seem coherent to me.

    Okay. So the way you handle the incoherence of the Trinity is to declare it illusory.

    If the incarnation of Christ did actually happen and the experiences of St. Paul are basically true, then the Trinity is coherent in my understanding.

    But you can’t express that coherence. How convenient.

    And your beliefs just happen to coincide with Steiner’s.

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  22. keiths: Charlie,

    You seem to be resistant to stating that God is not ineffable, but I don’t understand why. Your statements indicate that you agree:

    I believe that there are aspects of God, of the Divine, that are beyond words, beyond definition. But I do not believe that God, the Godhead, the Divine (as I struggle to find words that will convey meaning of something without limit) is totally transcendent.

    CharlieM:

    Reality is ineffable.

    Here we go again. 🙂

    I look around me at the world and ask myself: Where has it come from? Was it created ex nihilo, or did it have a creator? I have concluded that it did indeed have a creator.

    I now have a duality, creator and creation. But no dualities exist without there being something to link them. So I have now reached the point where I see a trinity, creator, creation and the creative activity.

    In Das Ewig-Weibliche, by Mrs. E. D. Cheney, she writes in a piece about Goethe’s Faust:

    Where shall we find a more concise and comprehensive expression of family love and life as representing the
    eternal mysteries of creation, than in the words of the Chorus after the birth of Euphorion ?

    ” Love in human wise to bless us
    In a noble pair must be ;
    But divinely to possess us

    It must form a precious Three.”

    And the all-sufficiency of Love is told in simplest words :

    “All we seek has therefore found us,
    I am thine and thou art mine ;
    So we stand as Love hath bound us,
    Other fortune we resign.”

    In the family is the most perfect expression of the Eternal Trinity, that great mystic doctrine running through many religions, which has been so dwarfed and narrowed by being made individual and dogmatic. But it runs as the simplest, plainest law through mechanics and chemistry, as well as biology and metaphysics, — the One, the Two, the resulting Third, — the union of differences in likeness producing a new-creation. Goethe saw this, and if he fails to paint it fully, it is because he had not known it in his own experience.

    Now if I apply the principle of ‘as above, so below’ as I’m apt to do, I can think of creation on three levels:

    The Logos or creative word, human intercourse, and sexual intercourse.

    At the lowest level we have the trinity of father, mother and offspring. The power of the parents in shaping their creation is limited. At the next level a person can create through the medium of language but they cannot create life in this way. At the highest level the Logos is purported to create the living world. ‘In the beginning was the Word…All things were made by Him’.

    How am I by means of the second level, supposed to express the attributes of a being who operates at the next level up? It is asking the impossible. But this does not stop us from studying the creation.

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  23. keiths: Here we go again.

    I really admire your patience, keiths… 😊
    Can you quantum-teleport some to me?
    I really need it due to the side-effects of hysteria that doesn’t look like is going to end any time soon…🤔

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  24. keiths:

    Charlie,

    Given my belief in a higher reality and my understanding of our limitations, the Trinity does seem coherent to me.

    Okay. So the way you handle the incoherence of the Trinity is to declare it illusory.

    I don’t see what is illusory about the principle of creator, creation and the productive activity which realises the creation.

    Goethe’s words at the end of Faust are apt:

    The Chorus Mysticus (mysticus = related to the mysteries) ends the drama:

    All of the transient,
    Is parable, only:
    The insufficient,
    Here, grows to reality:
    The indescribable,
    Here, is done:
    Woman, eternal,
    Beckons us on

    Mightiest empress of the world,
    Let me, in the blue
    Pavilion of the sky unfurl’d,
    Thy mystery view!

    Mysterious, even in broad daylight,
    Nature won’t let her veil be raised:
    What your spirit can’t bring to sight,
    Won’t by screws and levers be displayed

    “But, in the second part, there is scarcely anything of the subjective; here is seen a higher, broader, clearer, more passionless world, and he who has not looked about him and had some experience, will not know what to make of it.”

    – Conversations with Goethe by Johann Peter Eckermann February 17, 1831 (translated by John Oxenford)

    I wrote:

    If the incarnation of Christ did actually happen and the experiences of St. Paul are basically true, then the Trinity is coherent in my understanding.

    keiths But you can’t express that coherence. How convenient.

    And your beliefs just happen to coincide with Steiner’s.

    I have tried to give a coherent account of my understanding. And I’ve studied what has been said about the trinity by others who have no doubt climbed further out of Plato’s cave than I have.

    Goethe’s Titanism by Thomas Davidson

    The attempt to conceive God philosophically is especially marked in the works attributed to Dionysius the Areopagite, — the first bishop of Athens and the patron saint of Paris, — works which in reality were produced about the end of the fourth century of our era, under strong Neo-Platonic influences. Here we are told, for example, that “the supra-essential One limits the existing one and all number, and is itself the cause and principle of the one and of number, and at the same time the number and the order of all that exists. Hence the Deity, who is exalted above all things, is praised as a monad and as a triad, but is unknown to us or to any one, whether as monad or as triad ; in order to praise the supra-unified in him, and his divine creative power, we apply to him, not only the triadic and monadic names, but we call him the Nameless One, the Super-essential, to indicate that he transcends the category of being.” “We might find similar expressions in Augustine and other influential waiters of the patristic period. Similarly, in that most famous of all mediaeval theological manuals, the ” Sentences ” of Peter the Lombard, we find it said : ” The Trinity is a supreme thing and common to all that enjoy it, if, indeed, it can be called a thing and not rather the cause of all things, or if, indeed, it can be called so much as a cause.

    And here is an old piece written about the Trinity:

    THE TRINITY VERY ANCIENTLY A CURRENT HEATHEN DOCTRINE
    “THERE are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one.” (1 John v. 7.) This text, which evidently discloses a belief in the existence of three separate and distinct beings in the Godhead, sets forth a doctrine which was anciently of almost universal prevalence. Nearly every nation, whether oriental or occidental, whose religious faith has been commemorated in history, discloses in its creed a belief in the trifold nature and triune division of the Deity. St. Jerome testifies unequivocally, “All the ancient nations believed in the Trinity.

    And a volume of facts and figures might be cited here, if we had space for them, in proof of this statement.

    A text from one of the Hindoo bibles, (the Puranas) will evince the antiquity and prevalence of this belief in a nation of one hundred and fifty millions of people more than two thousand years ago. “O you three Lords!” ejaculated Attencion, “know that I recognize only one God. Inform me, therefore, which of you is the true divinity that I may address to him alone my vows and adorations. The three Gods, Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, becoming manifest to him, replied, “Learn, O devotee, that there is no real distinction between us. What to you appears such is only by semblance. The single being appears under three forms by the acts of creation, preservation and destruction, but he is one.”

    Now, reader, note the remark here, that the ancient Christian fathers almost universally and unanimously proclaimed the doctrine of the Trinity as one of the leading tenets of the Christian faith, and as a doctrine derived directly by revelation from heaven. But here we find it most explicitly set forth by a disciple of a pagan religion more than three thousand years ago, as the Christian missionary D. O. Allen states, that the Hindoo bible, in which it was found was compiled fourteen hundred years before Christ, and written at a still earlier period. And we find the same doctrine very explicitly taught in the ancient Brahmin, Persian, Chaldean, Chinese, Mexican and Grecian systems—all much older than Christianity.

    No writer ever taught or avowed a belief in any tenet of religious faith more fully or plainly than Plato sets forth the doctrine of the Trinity in his Phædon, written four hundred years B.C. And his terms are found to be in most striking conformity to the Christian doctrine on this subject, as taught in the New Testament. Plato’s first term for the Trinity was in Greek—1. To Agathon, the supreme God or Father. 2. The Logos, which is the Greek term for the Word. And, 3. Psyche, which the Greek Lexicon defines to mean “soul, spirit or ghost”—of course, the Holy Ghost. Here we have the three terms of the Christian Trinity, Father, Word, and Holy Ghost, as plainly taught as language can express it, thus making Plato’s exposition of the Trinity and definition of its terms, published four hundred years B.C., identical in meaning with those of St. John’s, as found in his Gospel, and contained in the above quoted text. Where, then, is the foundation for the dogmatic claim on the part of the Christian professors for the divine origin of the Trinity doctrine?

    It’s not just Steiner, many wise thinkers of past ages have seen coherence in the concept of the trinity, and I would say that an understanding of creation at any level and in any context requires it.

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  25. keiths:

    Okay. So the way you handle the incoherence of the Trinity is to declare it illusory.

    CharlieM:

    I don’t see what is illusory about the principle of creator, creation and the productive activity which realises the creation.

    You’re misunderstanding me. I meant that you declare the incoherence to be illusory. It’s a handy trick, because it allows any belief, no matter how incoherent, to be incorporated into your belief system. The bad news is that it allows any belief, no matter how incoherent, to be incorporated into your belief system.

    Belief systems tend to fill up with crud if their owners don’t apply sufficiently stringent filtration.

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  26. J-Mac,

    I really admire your patience, keiths… 😊

    It’s a good way to kill time while on lockdown.

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  27. Charlie,

    You’re now talking about a bunch of lower-case trinities, whereas this thread is about the upper-case Trinity of Christianity.

    The trinities (or at least most of them) aren’t incoherent in the way the Trinity is. So when you say…

    I don’t see what is illusory about the principle of creator, creation and the productive activity which realises the creation.

    …I agree with you. That’s just a trinity, though.

    Do you acknowledge the (you would say apparent) incoherence of the upper-case Trinity?

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  28. keiths:
    J-Mac,

    It’s a good way to kill time while on lockdown.

    I figured… 😉

    I wanna do an OP on the Gods permission of evil we talked about a while back…
    Do you remember?

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  29. keiths:

    keiths:

    Okay. So the way you handle the incoherence of the Trinity is to declare it illusory.

    CharlieM:

    I don’t see what is illusory about the principle of creator, creation and the productive activity which realises the creation.

    You’re misunderstanding me. I meant that you declare the incoherence to be illusory.

    Yes , I did suspect that’s what you meant. But I decided to leave it as I’d written it and wait for your response.

    I am quite sympathetic to your argument that the doctrine on the Trinity that orthodox Christians are expected to adhere to appears to be incoherent. But I don’t want to categorically dismiss something that I may be wrong about, thus I wrote:

    I would say let the symbol of the trinity be its own doctrine.. Let it be our teacher. Do not rely on what any external body tells us to believe about it.

    I am reluctant to say the orthodox doctrine is wrong because it would be an argument from a position of a knowledge of God. I prefer to admit my ignorance and just to try to explain what the Trinity means to me. This symbol aligns nicely with what the various traditions have to say and my belief in a creative principle and its creation in respect to higher realms.

    As I’ve shown there are many versions of trinities throughout the various traditions and religions of the world. I am more interested in looking at all of these to see what they have in common.

    We know that from its very inception, Christianity began to bifurcate into a multitude of sects and factions. And those who held the power got to decide what official doctrines were to believed and what was to be rejected. Much has been suppressed. This is all well known. It comes as no surprise that I am inclined to esoteric Christianity rather than the orthodox exoteric Christian creeds that we are obliged to follow. I think ‘The Life of Brian’ put the point across brilliantly when the huge crowd of followers all shouted in unison, ‘We are all individuals’, or words to that effect.

    As I see it is a fundamental attribute of any creative process that it is triune. The source of the creation, the thing created and the creative activity.

    I know you would prefer to be arguing with orthodox Christians about this, but it would seem you are lumbered with me.

    It’s a handy trick, because it allows any belief, no matter how incoherent, to be incorporated into your belief system. The bad news is that it allows any belief, no matter how incoherent, to be incorporated into your belief system.

    Belief systems tend to fill up with crud if their owners don’t apply sufficiently stringent filtration.

    I thank you for allowing me to use you as a filter.

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  30. keiths: Charlie,

    You’re now talking about a bunch of lower-case trinities, whereas this thread is about the upper-case Trinity of Christianity.

    The trinities (or at least most of them) aren’t incoherent in the way the Trinity is. So when you say…

    I don’t see what is illusory about the principle of creator, creation and the productive activity which realises the creation.

    …I agree with you. That’s just a trinity, though.

    Do you acknowledge the (you would say apparent) incoherence of the upper-case Trinity

    Yes from our perspective existing within the confines of time and space it does seem incoherent. But we do know of entities that are not governed by the same physical laws as we are subject to. So can I justifiably say for definite that it is incoherent no matter the perspective? I don’t see the need for me to adhere to that stance.

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  31. CharlieM,

    Yes from our perspective existing within the confines of time and space it does seem incoherent. But we do know of entities that are not governed by the same physical laws as we are subject to.

    Physical laws and reasoning are two different things. We know of no entities for which our standard rules of reasoning fail.

    So can I justifiably say for definite that it is incoherent no matter the perspective? I don’t see the need for me to adhere to that stance.

    But then you have a reason to reject it — its known incoherence — and no reason to accept it apart from the mere possibility that it might be coherent at some higher level, whatever that means. Or even whether such higher-level coherence is possible when the lower level is incoherent.

    Known incoherence deserves far greater weight than any unsubstantiated claim of higher-level coherence. The Trinity should be rejected on those grounds.

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  32. Charlie,

    Earlier you were defending the Trinity as coherent:

    keiths:

    No, because coherence is an internal property. QM has it; the Trinity doesn’t.

    CharlieM:

    They are both coherent when it is realised that they are not confined within the limits of time and space.

    Now you appear to acknowledge the incoherence:

    I am quite sympathetic to your argument that the doctrine on the Trinity that orthodox Christians are expected to adhere to appears to be incoherent. But I don’t want to categorically dismiss something that I may be wrong about…

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  33. keiths:
    Charlie,

    Earlier you were defending the Trinity as coherent:

    keiths:

    CharlieM:

    Now you appear to acknowledge the incoherence:

    keiths,
    Instead of going back and forth on the Trinity, why not focus on the relatively unknown? The Holy Spirit.

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  34. J-Mac,

    I’m trying to stick to the subject of the thread, but feel free to start a thread on the Holy Spirit. No one else has broached that topic, as far as I can tell.

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  35. keiths:
    J-Mac,

    I’m trying to stick to the subject of the thread, but feel free to start a thread on the Holy Spirit.No one else has broached that topic, as far as I can tell.

    Are you sure you want me to do it?
    It could be your #9…

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  36. keiths: Charlie,

    Earlier you were defending the Trinity as coherent:

    keiths:

    No, because coherence is an internal property. QM has it; the Trinity doesn’t.

    CharlieM:

    They are both coherent when it is realised that they are not confined within the limits of time and space.

    Now you appear to acknowledge the incoherence:

    I am quite sympathetic to your argument that the doctrine on the Trinity that orthodox Christians are expected to adhere to appears to be incoherent. But I don’t want to categorically dismiss something that I may be wrong about…

    Quantum mechanics maintains internal coherence because it has its own laws which are incompatable with the laws of classical physics.

    I was trying to argue the internal coherence of the Trinity within the terms of the creed.

    The three aspects of the Trinity are said to be not created but eternal and almighty. This makes them absolute. The absolute is infinite. The infinite has its own mathematical logic regarding units and quantity which does not conform to our experiential world.

    I was trying to point out that your equation of 1+1+1=1 is incoherent in our everyday world but not when applied to the infinite.

    I was trying to defend the doctrine from the point of view of the Athanasian Creed.

    But I am not going to defend the creed itself. It may have an internal consistency but I do not adhere to it. It says that in order to be saved we must think of the Trinity. I believe we should be looking for the Christ within. And that is not dependent on us abiding by any belief system. We can be a Christian, Muslum, athiest or agnostic and still find the Christ within. He can be found, not only by consciously looking, but by right action.

    Steiner:

    Before the inner eye of the Gnostic lay a glorious vista of spiritual worlds, with the Hierarchies ranged in their order, one above the other. How the Christ had descended through the worlds of the spiritual Hierarchies to enter into the sheaths of a mortal man — all this stood before the soul of the Gnostic. And he tried to envisage how the Christ had come from heights of spirit, how He had been conceived on earth. The best way to get some idea of the knowledge then existing is to reflect that everything produced by the world after the extermination of the Gnosis was paltry in comparison with the grandeur of the Gnostic idea of the Christ. The Mystery-wisdom behind the Gospels is infinitely great — greater by far than anything which later theology has been able to discover from them. To realise how paltry and insignificant compared with the Gnosis is the current conception of the Christ Being, we have but to steep ourselves in the ancient Gnostic idea of Him. Picturing this, one is filled with humility by the grandeur of the conception of the Christ Being entering into a human body from cosmic heights, from far distant cosmic worlds.

    This majestic, sublime concept of Christ has fallen into the background, but all the dogmatic definitions handed down to us as Arian or Athanasian principles of faith are meagre in comparison with the Gnostic conception, in which vision of the Christ Being was combined with wisdom relating to the universe. Only the merest fragments of this great Gnostic conception of Christ have survived.

    If Christ’s descent is a fact then He is within each and every one of us no matter who we are or what beliefs we follow. But He remains crucified and entombed within me unless I demonstrate genuine selfless love. This is the message we should be following, not some external list of stipulations.

    And here I have to be careful. Am I acting purely from within, or am I just following the dictates of some external authority, be it a church, a creed, a figure such as Steiner, of whatever? Here the saying, ‘know thyself’ is very important. We can perform all the loving actions we want but unless our motives are pure don’t mean a lot. I believe this is the paradox we have to face.

    Back to the Trinity. I think that there are ways of understanding it which are coherent, but as it is laid down in the Athanasian Creed, it is not consistent with my beliefs.

    So when pushed to give a yes or no answer, (as you have been pushing me), I would have to take your side and say that it is incoherent.

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  37. Charlie,

    Back to the Trinity. I think that there are ways of understanding it which are coherent, but as it is laid down in the Athanasian Creed, it is not consistent with my beliefs.

    So when pushed to give a yes or no answer, (as you have been pushing me), I would have to take your side and say that it is incoherent.

    Despite your argument regarding infinities?

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  38. Charlie,

    I was trying to argue the internal coherence of the Trinity within the terms of the creed.

    The three aspects of the Trinity are said to be not created but eternal and almighty. This makes them absolute. The absolute is infinite. The infinite has its own mathematical logic regarding units and quantity which does not conform to our experiential world.

    I was trying to point out that your equation of 1+1+1=1 is incoherent in our everyday world but not when applied to the infinite.

    The number 1 does not turn into infinity when we include infinities in our mathematics. 1 is still 1, and 1+1+1 is still 3.

    Suppose the Son is infinite. How many Sons are there? One. One infinite son. The same reasoning applies to the Father and the Holy Spirit.

    Transfinite mathematics augments, but doesn’t replace, ordinary math like 1+1+1=3.

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  39. keiths:

    Charlie,

    Back to the Trinity. I think that there are ways of understanding it which are coherent, but as it is laid down in the Athanasian Creed, it is not consistent with my beliefs.

    So when pushed to give a yes or no answer, (as you have been pushing me), I would have to take your side and say that it is incoherent.

    Despite your argument regarding infinities?

    Yes, because in my opinion the whole point about the Son is that, in loving action, He sacrifices absolute power in order to descend to the level of humanity. this is a severe restriction. In this respect the Son does not remain equal to the Father.

    The orthodox view of the Trinity does not seem to take account of this sacrifice as far as I can see from my perspective.

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  40. CharlieM: Quantum mechanics maintains internal coherence because it has its own laws which are incompatable with the laws of classical physics.

    I was trying to argue the internal coherence of the Trinity within the terms of the creed.

    Quantum Trinity?!
    And I was accused of inserting quantum mechanics into theology…😉

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  41. keiths:
    My series isn’t meant to be exhaustive, so the topic is all yours.

    10:4
    Some day…perhaps…😊

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  42. keiths:

    Charlie,

    I was trying to argue the internal coherence of the Trinity within the terms of the creed.

    The three aspects of the Trinity are said to be not created but eternal and almighty. This makes them absolute. The absolute is infinite. The infinite has its own mathematical logic regarding units and quantity which does not conform to our experiential world.

    I was trying to point out that your equation of 1+1+1=1 is incoherent in our everyday world but not when applied to the infinite.

    The number 1 does not turn into infinity when we include infinities in our mathematics. 1 is still 1, and 1+1+1 is still 3.

    Suppose the Son is infinite. How many Sons are there? One. One infinite son. The same reasoning applies to the Father and the Holy Spirit.

    Transfinite mathematics augments, but doesn’t replace, ordinary math like 1+1+1=3

    I blame the way we are taught arithmetic from an early age. Counting beans. ‘Here is one bean. Add another bean and you have two beans’. (no small casserole jokes! 🙂 )We are taught to think of units as separate entities. There is another way of teaching which treats the unit as a whole. Beginning from the whole and dividing will arrive at the same result of multiplicity. The first method sets us up well to be reductionist in our thinking.

    The unity is primal and the Trinity is derived from this unity. It is not a case of beginning from the Trinity and trying to lump them together into some amalgamated whole.

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  43. Charlie,

    Yes, because in my opinion the whole point about the Son is that, in loving action, He sacrifices absolute power in order to descend to the level of humanity. this is a severe restriction. In this respect the Son does not remain equal to the Father.

    The fact that Jesus prays to the Father (and the nature of those prayers) also indicates that Jesus is not equal to the Father. That belief is considered heresy, however.

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  44. J-Mac: Quantum Trinity?!
    And I was accused of inserting quantum mechanics into theology…😉

    I thought you’d be all over that one. Two particles plus the activity that unites them, hey presto, a trinity 🙂 = 🙂

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  45. keiths:

    Charlie,

    Yes, because in my opinion the whole point about the Son is that, in loving action, He sacrifices absolute power in order to descend to the level of humanity. this is a severe restriction. In this respect the Son does not remain equal to the Father.

    The fact that Jesus prays to the Father (and the nature of those prayers) also indicates that Jesus is not equal to the Father. That belief is considered heresy, however.

    If you are looking for heretical thoughts about Jesus read what Steiner has to say on the subject 🙂

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  46. Charlie,

    The problem isn’t with how arithmetic is taught. We all (I hope) learn arithmetic with both whole numbers and fractions. That doesn’t prevent us from seeing separate things coming together to form a whole or a whole being divided into separate pieces.

    The unity is primal and the Trinity is derived from this unity. It is not a case of beginning from the Trinity and trying to lump them together into some amalgamated whole.

    Okay, so derive the Trinity. What do you have? Three persons. It’s still 1+1+1=1.

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  47. keiths: Okay, so derive the Trinity. What do you have? Three persons. It’s still 1+1+1=1.

    The difference is in your equation the ‘1’ is a simple, separate, abstract unit, while the unity of the whole can be a complex entity. We as individuals are complex units.

    One person equals one nerve sense system plus one rhythmic system plus one metabolic limb system. The three systems can be distinguished but they are meaningless in isolation from the whole.

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