11 May, 2012

Is Three a Crowd?
I recently replied to a comment from a Facebook friend on the relative merits, or otherwise, of Abrahamic monotheism, atheism, traditional indigenous animism, and polytheistic Paganism.
My reply was very long, probably not in good FB form, and perhaps not read through to the end. However, I felt very deeply and thought very hard about my response, so I’d like to share it in a less summary form with a wider community.

For me the affirmation that God is Three-in-One (Triune), is an appropriate symbolic representation of how I "live, move and have my being" in the Absolute Mystery.I experience and understand this Triune God as Community-in-Oneness, Unity-in-Diversity, and Ubuntu (here stretching the South African idea of being human as person-in-community).

The ancient 'formula' is not, and cannot be, rooted in objective, logical-positivist and analytical language. The understanding of the concept and doctrine of the Holy Trinity (arising from the shared experience and reflection of the early Christian community) is derived from the experience and language of life as we live it... within and between the ecologically related community of chemical compounds, organisms, persons, societies, and that Beingness which is Behind/Beyond and which holds it All-Together. Thanks to John MacQuarrie for this insight.
An ‘explanation’ of the concept and doctrine of the Holy Trinity  of the Triune G-d has been attempted by analogy to the chemical compound H20 – experienced as water, steam and ice. This is limited because the Triune G-d is firstly not a ‘thing’ and secondly is at one and the same (“time and place” for want of a better expression) Present in relationship as G-d as “Parent, Son and Holy Spirit”. Somewhat better is the analogy to the encounter between myself and a rose – my experiencing the sight, smell and sensation as different ‘aspects’, (ways of being, expressions), of one and the same ‘essential/substantial’ rose.

Do we experience a rose merely as a pleasing variety of light waves, chemical bondings, mathematical ratios? Or as a shocking R75 a dozen, and a painful-to-prune-plant! We may, and do, partially explain it in this way but more delightful for me is to relate to its exuberant fullness and beauty as a gift from God - animatedly expressive through ‘Mother Nature’ for the sharing with another. This is a far more Personal - here I do not mean individualist or private - richer, and fuller experience.

I appreciate Hilaire Belloc in this regard:
Of three in One and One in three My narrow mind would doubting be
Till Beauty, Grace and Kindness met And all at once were Juliet

and for much of my life have grappled with the intensity of John Donne's religious fervour in the following...

Batter my heart, three-person'd God ; for you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new

I express my encounter and experience of the relational nature of the one ultimate Reality of Divine Love within/between Self/selves in the further ‘naming’ of God as Creator, Redeemer and Helper.I have found this is simply the best way of relating with the complex simplicity of my life, death and new life.

The symbolic expression of God as Triunity enables me to experience a fuller participation in the Mystery. More than either bleak monotheism (which tends towards a life-denying and fundamentally fascist understanding of “God out there”) or a literal polytheism (which leaves me with the question "What principle (of Being) holds the many 'god-beings' together?"). To be sure God is animate in All. So what is the real obstacle to seeing the “Many” as manifestation of One Divine Being-in-Community? And why do many people have faith in Nothing and No-One, rather than in Something and Some-One?

In any case, and here is the spanner... perhaps, as one modern Jewish scholar says "Three is not enough".  (Ethical Monotheism, Past and Present: Essays in Honor of Wendell S. Dietrich, ed. T. Vial and M. Hadley (Providence, RI, Brown Judaic Studies: 2001)


  1. Mena Stamper writes re Trinity Sunday, "When we become too sure of what we know about Jesus (or indeed the Trinity on this particular Sunday), when we believe that we have grasped him at last, that is when we can perhaps expect to be undone like Nicodemus. That undoing -- that overturning of our certainty -- may be a very good thing if it allows us to experience anew the miracle of our birth from above into eternal life, which has nothing to do with what we know or what we are (any more than our birth from our mother's womb did). It is a gift of life from the heart of the Father, breathing the Spirit wind over us and through us, and opening our infant eyes to the Son, our Teacher, lifted up to draw all people to himself and his lesson of love." http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=6/3/2012&tab=4

    Though, like any other image of the Trinity, it is limited in what it can convey, etc, I do rather like Andrei Rublev's famous icon painting, Trinity. It depicts the 3 visitors Abraham received in Gen. 18, but also more than that. Sometimes it is called the icon of the Old Testament Trinity. What always strikes me in this image, is the strong accent on the One-ness of God's being which is understood as divine relationship in love. The figure on the left is the Father, inclining toward the figure on his right, the Spirit, who is inclining toward the central figure on his right, Christ, who is inclining toward the figure on his right, the Father. The 3 figures sit so close to each other that a perfect circle may be drawn around their heads, enclosing all three. But there is an open place at the one end of the table, nearest to the viewer, inviting him / her into the mystery of the divine communion, the fellowship with God, symbolised by the cup of wine. [Hope you can paste the image here. Anyhow,here is a link to Rublev's icon and an explanation thereof: http://www.wellsprings.org.uk/rublevs_icon/rublev.htm ]

  2. It could be just my eyes playing tricks on me. I'm curious what others may think about the Trinity, or Triquetra. But it looks like the ultimate 666. The middle circle stays the same, but there are three sixes forward, and three sixes backward. In perfect unity, no matter what way you turn it, even face it to a mirror, there it is again.
    They say Christians contemplated for thousands of years what the mark of the beast is. I hope I'm wrong, that Satan didn't some how play a trick, because that symbol is even in the King James ver of the Bible. I can see it when I look at that.
    Can you?