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God is...Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Tomorrow is Trinity Sunday.


We have been learning in Sunday School that Heresy (the choice to depart from established standards and teach others the same) was the very thing that provoked Christians to write down what they believe.


From the very beginning, Orthodoxy (right/correct thinking, worship, teaching) was formed around three central ideas: 1) God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit 2) Jesus is, God the Son, the incarnate 2nd person of the Trinity; true God and true human and 3) Salvation is by grace. These are the teachings (doctrines) at the heart of what it means to be Christian.


Heresies come from departing from these established standards, usually in the form of trying to: solve some puzzle of the mystery of the Trinity incorrectly, teaching that Jesus was either 'only divine' or 'only human', and the human propensity to fall back on earning/deserving our way into God's good news.


In honor of Trinity Sunday, I offer you the classic "St. Patrick's Bad Analogies" of the Trinity.



You might get the sense of humor, but still be scratching your head...Sabellius, modalism, partialism, i've never heard any of these terms before??? The creeds of the early church were not written in philosophical language, they are the historical experience of the first apostolic community and the tradition of the words of Christ which illuminate this experience. But when someone is trained in classical learning and knows the the terms of philosophy, they lay in wait with scores of questions. How can you have three absolute beings? Each one, in order to be absolute, must infringe on the absolute character of the other; absolute and multiplicity are two contradictory concepts.


Sabellius, one such Roman intellectual, trained in hellenistic philosophy came along in the 3rd century. In trying to make Christian faith square with his philosophical training, he opined that God must be three personas (faces or masks) but one God. Persona was the name for the masks worn in greek dramas; like a character. Sabellius taught that God was only one God, but he presented himself throughout history as a Father, then a Son, and finally as a Spirit. God was only one of these things at a time. Hence, modalism, is the heresy that there is one God who presents himself in one mode at a time. That's why we can't use that tired analogy of water, because although liquid, ice and steam are all various forms or modes of water, they can't occupy all three at the same time. You've never seen a frozen boiling vapor that pours freely from one container to another like liquid....have you?


Well intentioned, but incorrect. The church said no to this teaching, and said you can't rightly call yourself a part of the world-wide communion of christians if you teach this.


Partialism isn't attributed to any one teacher that I'm aware of. It is simply the error that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are each 1/3 or a 'part' of a whole. This is not christian teaching.


The heretic from the 3rd century named Arius taught something a little different. He claimed that Christ and the Holy Spirit were creations of the Father. He's known for accompanying his teaching to musical melodies "There was a time when the Son was not.." In the same way that light and heat are creations of a star we call the sun, they are not suns or The Sun itself. Arius taught that the Son and the Holy Spirit were like that. Again, not christian doctrine.


The video closes with a clinched tooth confession, where St. Patrick finally declares a portion of what today is called, the Athanasian Creed: (here is a snippet)


...we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal...


and the simple country folk of Ireland respond to St. Patrick "Well why didn't you just say so? Yeah Patrick!"


God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Three 'whos' and one 'what' .The Trinity=tri-unity. Not three Gods, not parts of a whole, not one God with two other lesser creations or manifestations. One God in three persons.


There are things we can say about God, and there are things we can't. It's a mystery, that God has illumined for us, but not exhausted.


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