Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Triune God

Some time ago, my grown daughter Stephanie confessed to being confused and puzzled by the concept of the Triune God, which is central to most modern divisions of Christianity. "Father, Son and Holy Ghost." And I have to admit, that the concept doesn't bother me at all, principally because I don't see how it affects the precepts by which we are commanded to live. But, the question set me thinking about how this idea developed.

The conception of the Trinity is the result of meditation on the text by early Christians who found compelling the text "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19). The Trinity is generally regarded as central to church doctrine by those who believe it. Major disruptions within church organizations have occurred as a results of disputes over what actually is meant by the Trinity, and whether or not it actually is the true and accurate depiction of God.

The conflict appears to center around the terms used to describe the three aspects of God. When we think of the individual elements of the Trinity, we tend to regard them in the same way we would regard individual persons -- i.e., wholly realized, self-actualizing independent beings. However, our conception of the Trinity comes from the early Church Fathers, who sought to codify our understanding of the Trinity as "three Hypostases in one Ousia."

According to Origen, one of the early Church Fathers:

Hypostasis means an objective reality capable of acting. In modern times, it is commonly translated into English as "person." This is exceptionally inaccurate, as it is completely divorced from the original conception. "Personae" is a closer explication. Ousia means being or nature. As there was only one God, the three hypostases had the same ousia.

To the present day, theologians are still arguing over the meanings of these words and whether this understanding of the Trinity represents a Biblically sound perception. For example, the word ousia is not used anywhere in the Bible in a context that reflects this Trinitarian usage. And in some cases, hypostasis is used in Biblical times in ways that make it interchangable with 'ousia.'

Readers of the translated Bible are being confused because they are injecting their own understanding of or conception of a person into the text; seeing "Father, Son and Holy Ghost" as individual beings, rather than as Origen and the other Church Fathers described them, as individual representations of a core essence, with the representations being some self-selected subset of qualities of the entire being.

There are still Christian churches which reject the Trinity, principally because it is not specifically described in the Bible.