Trinity Teaching: What is it?

Our Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, has pre-recorded a sermon (click here).

I have chosen to preach, actually teach, on this Trinity Sunday. I am more a ‘teacher’ than a ‘preacher’ anyways.

In an ecumenical text study, I was met with facial expressions questioning my sanity as I shared that I would probably not be utilizing the Presiding Bishop’s sermon in the service.

Then, I had a conversation with my mama. She had been ‘blowing the mind’ of a colleague while discussing our sacred history in scripture and the Trinity, primarily her questions. He asked if she was the annoying child who questioned the pastor, but she admitted that she did not have these questions until adulthood including:

  1. If Jesus is God incarnate in human flesh, who is Jesus praying to in the garden?
  2. If Jesus is God incarnate in human flesh, who does he scream out to from the cross?
  3. If Jesus is God, how can he be seated at the right hand of himself?

I, however, was proudly the annoying child questioning the pastor and faith formation leaders. Now, as a supposed adult, I continue to question and can speak hours and hours and hours on religion and theology… if only given the opportunity, but when I begin with the “-ologies” and “-isms”, my mama reminds me to ‘break it down potato head style’ for her.

Yet, I cannot sufficiently offer an understanding or image of the Trinity, but it is a significant mystery of faith that I LOVE to ponder often.

My mama asked a new question: Are there Christian denominations that do not teach the Trinity? The overly simplistic answer is yes and no.

As I shared Sunday, Pentecost is a celebration of the Holy Spirit poured out upon all flesh, which leads to the Trinity, a doctrine or core teaching. It is reflected in three-fold language of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, including our ‘Great Commissioning’ in the Gospel of Matthew.

Unitarian traditions deny that God exists within three ‘persons’, but often use the pieces of the three-fold language recognizing the Creator, the Christ, and the Holy Spirit (or Spirit of the Lord).

Trinitarian traditions embrace God existing within three ‘persons’ utilizing the three-fold language.

The Trinity is the doctrine not developed in response to a theological debate and conflict.
However, the Trinity has sparked much response, debate, and conflict, reportedly enough to cause St. Nicholas (yes, THE St. Nicholas) to have a physical altercation with Arius at the Council of Nicaea in 325ce.

The Trinity, rather, was developed from our human experience of the divine.
We can experience the Trinity, our divine One in Three and Three in One.
We can create intellectual parameters for an orthodox, or correct, teaching of Trinity.

Our language and depictions fail to sufficiently communicate the divine, which is beyond our comprehension. But, that does not stop us from striving to do so.

So, there are three requirements for an orthodox Trinity.

  1. There is only One Divine Substance (i.e. there is only One God).
    Therefore, we are monotheistic sharing the One and SAME God with Judaism and Islam, as People of the Book.
  2. There are Three ‘Persons’ (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) who are equal, and thus no subordination.
  3. All Three ‘Persons’ are Divine.

St. Nicolas’ rival was Aruis, whose ‘heresy’ (or false teaching) is one of the most common. It failed the second requirement, teaching that God created Christ and the Holy Spirit proceeds from God and Christ. Thus, it was argued that it implies subordination.

Another common heresy is Modalism, or the teaching that there is only One Divine with three differing appearances, modes, or roles. Examples:

  • H2O as Ice, Water, and Vapor; or
  • An Egg as Shell, White, and Yoke; or
  • A Person as Child, Parent (Fur-Parent), and Profession (Pastor).

The Three in One, One in Three is not a concept not unique to Christianity.
It is also expressed in the traditional religions of the Greeks, Romans, Celts and otherwise polytheistic traditions. Thus, the ‘orthodox’ Trinity is questioned, primarily by those outside the tradition, as being a Tritheism (or Three Gods) rather than a monotheism (or One God). This is also identified as a heresy.

However, there are numerous additional language and images that cannot pass the ‘orthodox’ test.

So, as a professor once said about teaching or preaching the Trinity… ‘pick your heresy of choice’.

Or, as seen on Facebook:
“How to avoid preaching heresy on the Trinity, say nothing and show cute cat photos instead.”

The essence is that the Trinity is a divine, whole community.

All of creation, including humans, was born from the love, not loneliness, of the Trinity.

The Trinity invites us into their dance of faith, hope, and love.

This dance calls us to build just, compassionate, loving and whole community in our world.

The Trinity can have intellectual parameters, such as those three defining an ‘orthodox’ Teaching.

The Trinity can be experienced in our own individual and communal lives.

The Trinity is a mystery of faith that cannot be sufficiently explained or depicted,
because we cannot fully comprehend our amazing, Three in One, One in Three Triune God.

And perhaps, Thanks be to God for such a mystery of faith. Amen.

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