Monday, 8 November 2010

Understanding the Trinity

Talk given at St Martin's by the Revd Phill Ball, on Sunday 7th November 2010.

Theology Teacher to me : "Now you’re sure you’ve got how God manifests himself all buttoned up?"

Ball: "I’m a hit hazy about the Trinity sir."

Theology Teacher : "Three in one, one in three. Perfectly straightforward. Any doubts about that see your maths tutor."

They're probably not the only ones to be confused about the Trinity.

This area of belief is notoriously difficult and mysterious, not to say deliberately mystifying.

Thomas a Beckect, when he was Archbishop of Canterbury, stipulated that one Sunday every year should he devoted to the doctrine, because he was horrified at how little it was understood.

It doesnt seem to have done the trick, to judge from what the guide book at Fountains Abbey says:

'Here in the Chapter House the monks gathered every Sunday to hear a sermon from the Abbot except on Trinity Sunday, owing to the difficulty of the subject.

Many modern Christians would sympathise.

And the Athanasian Creed (somewhat unhelpfully named, as it wasn’t written by St Athanasius!) positively revels in the doctrine’s incomprehensibility.

A health warning- don’t try and focus to much on this one, unless you revel in cryptic crosswords!

The Athanasian creed is a committee definition if ever there was one, because the Trinity

Is unhelpfully defined as:

But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty co—eternal. Such as the Father is., such is the Son: and such is the Holy Ghost.

The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate: and the Holy Ghost uncreate.

The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible: and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible And yet there are not three incomprehensihible , nor three uncreated: but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.

If anyone understand the trinity from that answers on a post card please!

Some might be compelled to say at this stage about the trinity:
But we might not understand calculus or particle physics or the differences between petrol and diesel engines, but it doesn’t mean they don’t exist, or can’t be right.


1) What does the trinity of God mean to you?

2) What holds the trinity together?

3) Is the Trinity relevant to your own beliefs, or your Christianity in the 21st Century?

But if it is so difficult to understand, so confusing and so baffling, that raises the interesting question, ‘Why was it ever formulated in the first place?’ Requiring people to believe something that even Abbots cannot explain is hardly a good sales pitch, so why did anyone conitue with it? Let me respond to that question.

First, why would we expect the infinite, eternal God to he easily grasped by our minds, which are finite, haven’t been around for very long, won’t be around in cosmic terms that much longer (unless God remakes them) and which we know to be affected by our moods, hormones, experiences and indeed digestion?

After all, we don’t apply that criterion in science. We don’t say, ‘Quantunm Mechanics is so hard to understand, it can’t be right!’

Secondly, should we not, in fact, expect the God who made the rich, complex, incomprehensible and yet surprisingly knowable world to have a corresponding richness, complexity diversity and delightfully deep but explorable depth?

Thirdly, does the doctrine of the Trinity not have precisely the ring of something that comes from beyond human understanding rather than something that was engendered by it?

It would have been easier if the Christians followed the Jewish model of God, even as a God of love and would have been like this.

But Jesus had walked among them as the son of God, and the spirit had come upon them at Pentecost.

So to understand God, they had to look at a different sort of God, and a different sort of love.

A relationship of love that holds the Trinity together, of mutual and equal parts, is how they came to see the trinity.

Before they made this relationship incomprehensible, in a definition of words.

It looks much more simply than words like this:
Its an important model of the trinity of God for many reasons.

God is no longer a distant and lonely aloof God.

But one god, with the three parts, held together in an eternal relationship, between the Father, the Son and the Spirit that make up together ,through the constant giving and receiving of love between them; the one God of love.

And has been for all eternity:

The spirit was hovering over the deep in Genesis is the Old Testament reference to the Father creator not being alone before out time began, in the New Testament at Jesus baptism we see all three of the trinity together, The father saying he is well pleased with his son, and the spirit in the form of a dove descending from Heaven to the son.

The God of Trinity is a relational and loving God, so what do we find them doing at Jesus baptism they glorify through this relational love each other. In Mark 1:11 The father says ‘You are my Son, whom I Love; with you I am well pleased.' The Spirit marks Jesus out as the one whom the favour of God rests on. Jesus willingly submits to the call and plan of the father, and accepts the anointing of the Holy Spirit to carry out the plan.

There is a mutual expression of love and trust, mutual submission, and mutual glorification.

It was this giving love that sent God as Jesus the son to live here as one of us, it was love he taught us, he died for love, and by the love of the trinity of God rose again, so we might live forever with the trinity, in a loving relationship.

Because in baptism in water like Jesus, we are washed clean, but it is when the holy spirit comes upon us at baptism, that Jesus lives in us, and we live in him through the spirit, and we are brought into a relationship with the trinity of God.

Looking Like this: 
Just Fantastic!!!

If we are in Christ, then we are in God, and we share in the Iife and the love of God.

We are taken up into the divine relationship, we are included with the trinitarian conversation, we belong within the eternal community.

We ‘participate in the divine nature’.

That is where we already are if we are ‘in Him’: and to be drawn ever more intimately into that Love is our calling.

That is the extraordinary privilege of being a Christian, and of being part of the Church.

And because that is where we are on the map of God, because we are located in the Son, because, as Jane Williams put it, the Spirit enables us ‘to stand in Jesus’ own place in relation to the Father”, therefore what is true of the Son becomes (in an important sense) true also of us.

It becomes true of us that we are eternally rooted in the love of the Godhead.

It becomes true of us that we are eternally loved.

It becomes true of us that we are eternally held in the love of the Father.

We are eternally held in the unbreakable bond of love that is at the root and at the heart of all things.

Ours is the utter security of being held in this eternal relationship of love.

The Father speaks over us what he speaks over the Son, ‘You are my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.’

But as ourseleves, We are not dissolved into the Son. We do not become God and are not

dissolved into God. We remain who we are. We remain — indeed, fully become — ourselves

We are not absorbed into the Trinity of God, but though Jesus we are brought as ourselves into that loving relationship ourselves.

But through the Son Jesus and through the spirit, before the Father,we are brought into the presence, love ,and into a personal relationship, with that relationship of eternal life directly with the trinity of the one God.

How awesome is that, literally there as not only as part of the relationship of the trinity, but drawn into the very relationship of the trinity.

Just to use one last visual view of the Trinity.

It's not the red of the father, or the blue of the Holy Spirit, or the Green Of Jesus the son, that gives us the true colour and image of God the trinity, and where we in our relationship with God lives,

And its not in the yellow or magenta either, but where the three colours meet endlessly in equal parts, it is there we are drawn into a relationship with God the trinity.

It is there that the colours and images are true, and not distorted or miscoloured, pure Trinity white, where the 3 primary colours make the one true eternal colour between them that The one god in three can be seen.

1) Has your view changed about the Trinity?

2) If so why?

3) If not why?

In summary:
  • The Trinity for all Christians in the 21st Century is a vital concept.
  • Through baptism we are all involved in a relationship with the trinity of God.
  • It is the mutual giving and receiving of love that binds the trinity together.
  • And binds our Christian lives in that eternal relationship, but as ourselves.
  • The relationship forged is eternal.


  1. Greetings Simon

    On the subject of the Trinity,
    I recommend this video:
    The Human Jesus

    Take a couple of hours to watch it; and prayerfully it will aid you to reconsider "The Trinity"

    Yours In Messiah
    Adam Pastor

  2. Was Jesus just merely a good man, a prophet, or as Christians claim God, For anyone intersted in the question 'Who is Jesus?' I recommend the following article, posted on this blog: