Did you know the Trinity is man-made? I didn't know until a few years ago. Christian leaders struggled to explain the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. People didn't understand how they were connected, so to speak. Discourse about these three leading roles became rampant, with the core divergence being their relationship to each other. The conflicting theories and explanations were confusing the religious landscape; and it needed to be explained in a way that made sense. Essentially, the Trinity as we know it today was conceived from a need for shared understanding and a desire to communicate more effectively.
They needed a framework.
Creating frameworks to give structure to an idea or concept isn't new. Particularly when dealing with complexity. Complexity wasn't a big topic in the year 325, so picturing a group of ancients collaborating to communicate a concept that made little sense in the public's existing worldview gives me a glimpse into their world and helps me relate to people long ago who were also wrestling with new ideas and understanding. It makes me smile.
Perhaps the Trinity was the first framework attempting to simplify a complex idea. This new information (new to me) about the Trinity was profound by not only connecting me to its origins, but also seeing this relationship that we're taught to accept at face value, have dots that connect. Conceptually and mystically, the Trinity's multi-dimensional nature continues to challenge those who come to understand it.
I like thinking of the Trinity as the original framework, even if naive. It demonstrates early experiences of recognizing and wrestling with complexity, particularly during a paradigm shift. Human consciousnessness was evolving and new ideas were surfacing.
Prior to this, most understanding dealing with the mysteries of life, such as science or religion, was limited. This relationship triad introduced new paradigms that needed imagery to shape and conceptualize it.
I'd bet most of us never fully understood the Trinity growing up. We just accepted it. This was my experience until I could think critically.
When someone questions the Trinity today, I welcome it. Its a fairly good indicator they're thinking critically and not accepting everything at face value.
Admitting we don't understand reveals a genuine desire to learn.
This new knowledge was one of the main reasons Christianity began making sense again. I tried to put myself in the shoes of those trying to teach and explain it - with no books, pens, or paper. They needed imagery and story. The trinity is rich in imagery and flow.
I recently heard it described in a new way that resonated. That doesn't mean it's true, it simply makes sense to how I come to understanding.
The Father was described as formless - as in energy. The Son was human - as in matter. And the Holy Spirit was supernatural - as in spirit. This tied the three primary engines of life in the universe together - at least tied it to my way of thinking. Matter, Energy, and Spirit.
The imagery reflects life as we know it today. The universe, then, could be seen as the first incarnation of God. The universe as God's creative expression, and since God is all that is, it also could be considered God incarnate. God as matter. It's embryo, a green cell out of a toxic stew emerging as life so dynamic that it continues to cycle and renew itself. Even the ability to self-correct is an inherent aspect of its nature.
If God is in and of everything, it's a no brainer.
(This idea also offers some the opportunity to release the judgements and conflict they have about people being earth centered.)
Think of it.
Sure, perhaps it happened like the Genesis story, but in super slow motion. I don't know and, personally, it doesn't matter to me how creation played out. We're together, here and now, working it out. And people will likely engage in a similar version of this conversation until the end of time.
It seems frivolous to argue about details of contradicting stories, or dismiss our great teacher, science. Rejecting the possibility that some stories grew into myths is closed minded as well. In the end, like any human testimony of events throughout history - stories change, details vary - but at the core, there is some underlying truth.
Fundamental, common truths are what matter.
Scientists on every side of the conversation agree the emergence of the first green cell from a toxic stew is a mystery.
Even though there's no shortage of theories.
Another aspect of the ongoing argument between myth and literal account is the gray area that lies between them - historic reality. Is it possible there existed a place called Eden? Either theory would include a story told and passed down through generations as we read in scripture - and it may have changed over time - until it was written. Is it possible on one corner of the earth this was truth? I think it's possible. It's naive to think it happened exactly as we hear it, and I honor the ancient tradition of storytelling, but does questioning its literalness mean the story is any less powerful and mystical?
No. Not for me, anyway.
For me, it's a mystery that either holds truth, or a form of truth, whether it's literal, historical, or myth. It's rich symbolism brings my own story to mind. I know little about the details of my personal family lineage and story, relatively speaking. Does it matter? Not really. Mostly because, I know something happened. My story started somewhere and continues on with my family. This is also true with the story of the beginning of time. In either case, I'll never know if the facts are true or not - but I do know something real happened. Whichever version is accurate, at some point in time, a first man and a first woman existed. Adam means human and Adam as the first human is good enough for me. At least it is today. Clearly, man and woman were interdependent, needing each other for procreation.
The Trinity concept, upon discovering it was a teaching tool for rabbis and priests, suddenly became relatable. It made sense! My guess is it always made intuitive sense to those who connected to it spiritually, even if they didn't know why. This would explain its survival even in the midst of confusion.
Even Augustine saw the need for this framework to tie Christianity together. Phyllis Tickler, in writing about Ausustine and the Trinity, says:
“The irony or disconnect in all of our historic nonchalance really does lie, as Augustine says, in the irrefutable fact that the Trinity is a central and defining mystery of Christianity. Without it, we are no more than organized moralists and well intentioned citizens of our various secular polities. “
Since the Trinity is a conclusion drawn by Christians in the third century, there has been disagreement about its accuracy and our understanding of it for centuries. One conflict asks, 'If God, Jesus, and the Spirit are separate and distinct making one Godhead; is the Godhead, then, a fourth divine being? If so, should it be called The Trinity?'
The discussion becomes convoluted. Not uncommon when we think too much. Particularly since nobody has ever come to actual agreement theologically on how the three interact with each other, and in turn, how they interact. We all arrive at our own assumptions, imagery, or conclusions, collectively and individually.
Either way, a concept called modalism is accepted as the overarching frame of Christianity itself. It’s fascinating to consider that modalism is at the very core of the Christian religion as a whole, even though not fully understood and often not agreed upon by Christians in general.
In the late second century, a man named Montanus who is, to this day, largely unknown other than to be remembered for his unusual, but very clear doctrine regarding the Holy Spirit. It is referred to as Montanism. He said the ‘Holy Spirit was alive and active in the world right here and right now and that Christians must be constantly attuned to the Spirit's presence and, being attuned by self-discipline and prayer, be ready at all times to perceive and follow the intention or direction of the Spirit."
He believed receptivity to the Spirit was paramount. He said in order "to claim full Christianity, one had to be receptive with all the senses and all one’s will and understanding. One had to be intentionally and consciously actively attuned to the Holy Spirit if one were ever to know what God wanted for one’s life.“
This statement clearly reflects a spirituality that isn’t tied to a particular religion. Montanus claimed that the Holy Spirit spoke to and through him which compromised his credibility, and probably put his life in danger because Christians at that time were persecuted severely, even to the death. These claims were heretical to the people then, and he'd likely be accused of the same thing today. Or institutionalized.
They thought he was dangerous, not to mention crazy or possessed. Ironically, Christians as a whole follow Montanus’ line of thought more closely than at any other time in Christian history - other than the earliest Christians. Following his line of thought in spiritual practice is not only true among Christians, but also describes how most who identify as "spiritual, but not religious" practice their form of spirituality as well.
There have been countless attempts at describing or pinning down the Holy Spirit, but to no avail. Even Paul said _______
Basil Caesarea said in 375 CE, “some have conceived of him as an activity, some as a creature, some as God, and some have been uncertain what to call him…and therefore neither worship him nor treat him with dishonor, but take up a neutral stance.”
Personally, I think Martha Porter, author of The Nicene Creed, says it perfectly when describing the challenge of using ancient words in the light of modern faith. She tries to demonstrate what Basil's struggle with the Holy Spirit looked like,
“if one plus one equals one was hard to explain, it became even more difficult when one plus one plus one was still equal to one.”
Phyllis Tickler tells of Augustine's take on the Trinity - “The irony or disconnect in all of our historic nonchalance really does lie, as Augustine says, in the irrefutable fact that the Trinity is a central and defining mystery of Christianity. Without it, we are no more than organized moralists and well intentioned citizens of our various secular polities. “
The confusion and discussions that surround the Trinity fire me up. It suggests there's life there. We are conditioned to want answers, to understand what can't be explained before we claim ownership. This makes it come alive for me.
The mystery, coupled with an intuitive knowing we can't explain, is the very essence of spiritual understanding.
It's my guess it won't be too long before scientists will view quantum physics as a serious field of study, and our questions that circle but don't land, will begin getting answers.
I think the Trinity is rich symbolism that mirrors life on earth - but in the spiritual realm.
The Trinity is a perfect and simple example of holism. The fact that ancient rabbis and priests created a framework to name and provide imagery for it is even more enlightening.
We are one part of a complex system dependent upon its other parts to sustain itself. The theory of Holism was first introduced by Jan Smuts in 1926. He described holism as the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, commonly simplified by 1 + 1 = 3. Each part contributes to it's wholeness whose function or expression surpasses anything we can manifest alone.
(Ignore this now, undeveloped. It's the origin of creative expression - something is manifested through a complexity that exceeds the fundamental and practical characteristics it contains. Something unseen, but can be experienced on a variety of other levels, contributes to the creation or expression, such as in art and music.)
The complex and interdependent nature of the Trinity is reflected beautifully in life on earth. Not just as human beings, but also our dependence on the system we can't exist outside of.
To me, this is being made in God's image. This is how it it all works. Life cannot be created in isolation or exist in a vacuum. Nor can spirit. We are co-creators in the great mystery, demonstrated in the spiritual realm by the interdependent and mutual flow symbolized by the rich imagery of the Trinity that mirrors how our own relationship with Spirit functions. Spirit is alive through the dynamic flow of matter and energy. Life incarnate. Life whole.
The relationship of the Trinity is like a waterwheel flowing continuously by giving and receiving life from the other. If there were only two, it would not result in this dynamic, spiritual manifestation. It's fascinating this was understood in these early times.
If there were only two, the relationship would be more like the reciprocal volley humans experience in relationship when they operate out of the ego. It would be dualistic. The only way to operate in wholeness, in unity, is non-dualistically. This non-dual nature can embrace the fullness and wholeness of spirit, matter, and energy without polarization or division. They are unified, not separate, in constant flow and oneness.
This image of the Trinity makes the spiritual essence of Christianity come alive for me. It no longer sounds like something I'm simply told to "believe," but instead, it's a dynamic spiritual reality that the ancients were attuned to, touching the holy through the relationship dynamic that creates life itself, and they had no knowledge of it. The fact that the combined members of the Trinity collectively manifested the relationship between matter, energy, and spirit, with no scientific understanding of thermodynamics or quantum physics is impressive - and amazing.
I'll hang around a little longer, particularly since the one aspect of Christianity I never doubt - even if it is backwards for many - is it's spiritual reality. My experiences have been too real and powerful to deny the existence of truth embedded in it. These days, I appreciate the richness of the stories - their lessons and history, our common human struggles, and the story of humanity's ongoing search for what lies beyond our understanding. Just as the ancients couldn't explain the Holy Spirit, I can't explain the experiences and deep knowing that continues to shape the mystery for me, keeping me on the path of my authentic Christian journey.