Trinity 101: A 10 point summary
Here are the basics of the Trinity:
1. The doctrine of the Trinity arose from the life of Jesus and the mission of the Church.
2. The word Trinity is not found in the bible.
3. Proto-trinitarian beliefs are found in the New Testament, especially in the writings of John, and occasionally in the writings of Paul. (For example, 1 John 5:20: He is the true God and eternal life. John 1:3: All things came into being through him. John 8:58: Before Abraham was, I am. Colossians 1:16: He is the image of the invisible God, for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created.)
4. The doctrine of the Trinity evolved over three centuries.
5. The doctrine of the Trinity is grounded in the church's belief in salvation, that in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, humanity, indeed creation, is reconciled to God. The early church theologians summarised this: God became man so that man might become God. This belief was called divinization: humanity has become divine. Inherent to the doctrine of the Trinity is the doctrine of the Incarnation. The doctrine of the Trinity sought to resist two beliefs that undermined this core Christian belief. First, if Jesus was not fully human, then God has not truly entered all of our existance. Secondly, if Jesus is not fully God, then God has not divinized our humanity. In the former, Jesus is like a tourist to earth, but not really one of us. In the latter, Jesus is a great hero, but not really God. The doctrine of the Trinity holds together the divinity and the humanity of Jesus.
6. If you think you understand the doctrine of the Trinity then you are misunderstanding it. It is not comprehensible. There is one God. God has one unifying 'essence'. Yet God has three 'underlying substances', the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Each 'person' of the Trinity is distinct. So it is three. Yet it is one. The Son is not in any way secondary or lesser to the Father, nor is the Holy Spirit in any sense 'below' the Son and the Father. There is no heirachy in God. And all three of these 'underlying substances' have been 'consubstantial' for all eternity.
7. The doctrine of the Trinity was not an invention of Emperor Constantine. Constantine presided over the church councils in the years 325 and 381, which wrote what has become known as the Nicene Creed, and remains the foundation of church belief.
8. The creeds set the boundaries of Christian belief inclusively by affirming both Jesus' humanity and Jesus' divinity.
9. The doctrine of the Trinity says equality, mutual respect, and compassion is the essence of God. God is not unmitigated power. God is a community that is in a dance-like relationship, eternally and mutually loving one another. Humanity, and all creation, now participates fully in this 'dance' because of the self-giving love of the Trinity, through the reconciling and salvific action of the three persons of the Trinity. The Greek Church fathers described this as 'Perichoresis': a rotational, dynamic relationship of eternal, self-giving love.
10. The doctrine of the Trinity not only models egalitarian, cooperative action, it sanctifies it. Anything that is coercive and domineering is unholy, against God's nature and purpose.