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"The three parts of the Holy Trinity are widely held to be coeternal, of the same substance, and yet inexplicably different."

I have seen this explanation many times before, and found it incomprehensible each time. Can this be rewritten? By definition, if three things are co-existent, co-eternal, and of the precisely the same substance, then they are not different. If these three things are different, then they are not precisely the same. Am I missing something here, or is this a re-working of Tertullian's claim that one must believe something to be true because it is incomprehensible? If so, then I guess the entry should be left as is. Understand that I am not criticising the belief in the Trinity - I am merely trying to find out what just what trinitarians believe in, and I am literally unable to parse the claims that were intended to describe it. The proposed explanation is a tautology.

It is possible for two things to be co-existent, co-eternal, and be of the same substance, and yet be different. They could differ in their accidents. (Sorry if I can't make it any clearer than that -- personally I think the doctrine of the Trinity is cognitively meaningless.) -- SJK

Actually, this is clearer. I think I understand what you mean; the only problem is that if this is describing God, it is difficult to describe this model as strictly monotheistic. It sounds like my concept of polytheism. Since I am not a member of the Christian faith community, I don't get a vote in saying whether its rational or not. But I don't find it to have any cognitive meaning if it supposed to be monotheistic. It might be interesting to point out in some article (maybe not thos one) that Jewish esoteric mysticism (Kabbalah) has a concept much like this. This is the concept of God's ten sefirot (emanations). There is no one official text that describes "the" Kabablistic view; rather, different authors describe them in different ways...and one of these ways seems a precise analogue to the Trinity. That particular Kabbalistic view is a minority within the Kabbalah, and has been criticised by rabbis as being "worse than the Trinity", since it makes God into Ten-in-One, instead of Three-In-One! Nonetheless, this view does seem to exist in some Orthodox Kabbalistic texts. (Note: Jews are not religiously obligated to believe in any part of Kabbalah at all, and if they do, they are not obligated to believe in any one particular understanding of the sefirot.) RK

Well, here's my two cents. The best explanation I've found, that is still brief, is what I put in the article: "The difference between them is only that the Father begets the Son, and the Son is eternally begotten of the Father. The Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father. The Son does not beget or proceed; the Father neither proceeds nor is begotten; the Holy Spirit nether begets nor is it begotten. There are no other differences. " That's more or less condensed from the Athanasian Creed. To say it another way, they are different in their personhood, but not different in their substance or essence. The Greeks said they shared the same homoousious, but existed in three distinct hypostases. I forget the Latin translation, though I think there was some confusion in the Latin simply because the Latin meant something very slightly different than the Greek.

Speaking for the Eastern Orthodox, a related claim is that while the three persons of the Trinity share one Divine Nature, all humans share a single Human Nature. Relationships between people are generally fractured and broken, to a greater or lesser extent depending upon the people. Relationships between God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are perfect, in terms of love, clear communication, and so forth. That relationship is the only one anywhere that is not in the least bit disfunctional. So for the Eastern Orthodox, part of the promise of salvation is a complete healing of relationships between each person and the three Persons of the Trinity, and between us people. That healing began with the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, when Jesus united the Divine and Human natures perfectly in himself. (That is, he became fully human without ceasing to be fully divine.) That's at least part of what makes this doctrine important, and not just abstract mumbo jumbo, or a difficult intellectual exercise. Hope this helps, but I'll understand if it only muddies the waters. --Wesley

If I ever get around to writing up the Unification Church version of the Trinity, I'll include it in the article or supply a link to it. It's kind of a bridge between traditional trinitarianism and modern unitarianism (by the way, I was a UU when I joined the UC (on the QT)). Hmm, am I getting silly?

Are there any official or standard UU views on the trinity, or are you saying that you will describe the range of most commonly held views? Either way is fine. RK

Sigh. My acronym jest apparently fell flat. :-( To clarify,

  • I joined the Unitarian Church in my mid teens. At age 18, I joined the Unification Church.
  • Both churches (-tarian and -fication) disagree with traditional views of the Trinity.
  • I will describe only the Unification view of the trinity, not the Unitarian.

--Ed Poor

I deleted text that said (quoting from memory because I forgot to cut--doh!):

Each [person of the Trinity] just shows a different character at a given point [in history].

This is an ancient heresy called Modalism, which I think is the same as Sabellianism after its proponent, Sabellius. It suggests that God just wears different hats or masks, or operates in different modes or characters at different points in time, like a Greek actor changing masks. This is refuted in Scripture when all three show up at once, especially at Christ's baptism (Epiphany/Theophany), and was also refuted by the Ecumenical Councils. I think modalism was mentioned earlier in the article; no need to repeat it here. --Wesley