How Is the Trinity Explained?
THE Roman Catholic Church states: “The Trinity is the term employed to signify the central doctrine of the Christian religion . . . Thus, in the words of the Athanasian Creed: ‘the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God.’ In this Trinity . . . the Persons are co-eternal and co-equal: all alike are uncreated and omnipotent.”—The Catholic Encyclopedia.
Nearly all other churches in Christendom agree. For example, the Greek Orthodox Church also calls the Trinity “the fundamental doctrine of Christianity,” even saying: “Christians are those who accept Christ as God.” In the book Our Orthodox Christian Faith, the same church declares: “God is triune. . . . The Father is totally God. The Son is totally God. The Holy Spirit is totally God.”
Thus, the Trinity is considered to be “one God in three Persons.” Each is said to be without beginning, having existed for eternity. Each is said to be almighty, with each neither greater nor lesser than the others.
Is such reasoning hard to follow? Many sincere believers have found it to be confusing, contrary to normal reason, unlike anything in their experience. How, they ask, could the Father be God, Jesus be God, and the holy spirit be God, yet there be not three Gods but only one God?
“Beyond the Grasp of Human Reason”
THIS confusion is widespread. The Encyclopedia Americana notes that the doctrine of the Trinity is considered to be “beyond the grasp of human reason.”
Many who accept the Trinity view it that same way. Monsignor Eugene Clark says: “God is one, and God is three. Since there is nothing like this in creation, we cannot understand it, but only accept it.” Cardinal John O’Connor states: “We know that it is a very profound mystery, which we don’t begin to understand.” And Pope John Paul II speaks of “the inscrutable mystery of God the Trinity.”
Thus, A Dictionary of Religious Knowledge says: “Precisely what that doctrine is, or rather precisely how it is to be explained, Trinitarians are not agreed among themselves.”
We can understand, then, why the New Catholic Encyclopedia observes: “There are few teachers of Trinitarian theology in Roman Catholic seminaries who have not been badgered at one time or another by the question, ‘But how does one preach the Trinity?’ And if the question is symptomatic of confusion on the part of the students, perhaps it is no less symptomatic of similar confusion on the part of their professors.”
The truth of that observation can be verified by going to a library and examining books that support the Trinity. Countless pages have been written attempting to explain it. Yet, after struggling through the labyrinth of confusing theological terms and explanations, investigators still come away unsatisfied.
In this regard, Jesuit Joseph Bracken observes in his book What Are They Saying About the Trinity?: “Priests who with considerable effort learned . . . the Trinity during their seminary years naturally hesitated to present it to their people from the pulpit, even on Trinity Sunday. . . . Why should one bore people with something that in the end they wouldn’t properly understand anyway?” He also says: “The Trinity is a matter of formal belief, but it has little or no [effect] in day-to-day Christian life and worship.” Yet, it is “the central doctrine” of the churches!
Catholic theologian Hans Küng observes in his book Christianity and the World Religions that the Trinity is one reason why the churches have been unable to make any significant headway with non-Christian peoples. He states: “Even well-informed Muslims simply cannot follow, as the Jews thus far have likewise failed to grasp, the idea of the Trinity. . . . The distinctions made by the doctrine of the Trinity between one God and three hypostases do not satisfy Muslims, who are confused, rather than enlightened, by theological terms derived from Syriac, Greek, and Latin. Muslims find it all a word game. . . . Why should anyone want to add anything to the notion of God’s oneness and uniqueness that can only dilute or nullify that oneness and uniqueness?”
“Not a God of Confusion”
HOW could such a confusing doctrine originate? The Catholic Encyclopedia claims: “A dogma so mysterious presupposes a Divine revelation.” Catholic scholars Karl Rahner and Herbert Vorgrimler state in their Theological Dictionary: “The Trinity is a mystery . . . in the strict sense . . . , which could not be known without revelation, and even after revelation cannot become wholly intelligible.”
However, contending that since the Trinity is such a confusing mystery, it must have come from divine revelation creates another major problem. Why? Because divine revelation itself does not allow for such a view of God: “God is not a God of confusion.”—1 Corinthians 14:33, Revised Standard Version (RS).
In view of that statement, would God be responsible for a doctrine about himself that is so confusing that even Hebrew, Greek, and Latin scholars cannot really explain it?
Furthermore, do people have to be theologians ‘to know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent’? (John 17:3, JB) If that were the case, why did so few of the educated Jewish religious leaders recognize Jesus as the Messiah? His faithful disciples were, instead, humble farmers, fishermen, tax collectors, housewives. Those common people were so certain of what Jesus taught about God that they could teach it to others and were even willing to die for their belief.—Matthew 15:1-9; 21:23-32, 43; 23:13-36; John 7:45-49; Acts 4:13.
[Picture on page 4]
The disciples of Jesus were the humble common people, not the religious leaders