question and response

Physics of the Trinity

Please walk me through the physics of the Trinity.

I believe that the Trinity exists in a way of being that is quite different from the way of existence that we understand as humans. I do not think that there is any way of understanding the Trinity in terms of physics. I would certainly not claim to be able to articulate the physics of the Trinity.

The Trinity certainly has the ability to act outside of the laws of physics. For example, the belief in creation out of nothing is something that God accomplished yet is far outside the understandings of modern physics.

What do you think? This is the best I’ve got…

This question came out of a young adult small group taster last Sunday morning in which I taught about the question “What is the Trinity?”

By Andrew Conard

Christian, husband, son, brother, homeowner

9 replies on “Physics of the Trinity”

I’m loving these posts, Andrew, because the Trinity is probably my favorite theological subject of all. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the bedrock of Christian theology, worldview, ethics, and whatever else.

As far as the physics of the Trinity, I think there are ways of thinking of the inter-relationship of the trinity that are helpful, but ultimately are going to be more philosophically based than physics based, since physics seems to refer to, generally, that which pertains to the operations of the physical world, which, as you have rightfully pointed out, the Trinity transcends.

Scholastic theology has been extremely helpful to me in this regard, although I must confess in the past I have considered it far too tedious and complicated to give a second thought. In the past few years, however, I have begun to see the value of it that was been born out of over a thousand years of thought and reflection.

Since the Trinity is composed of one divine and infinite nature, the persons of the Trinity are all of the same nature. That doesn’t mean the divine nature is equally shared, like I would give a slice of pie to one person and another slice to another person, all the while giving them the ‘same’ pie, but rather it means that the three persons are the same nature. The Greek church of the early centuries usually started with the hypostases and moved on to the divine nature; thus a lot more emphasis was place on the action of the persons in relation to each other, without, however, denying the unity of nature nor the perichoresis of the persons.

In the west, most notably with Augustine, the emphasis began with the divine nature and then moved on to the persons. It was evident that any action, characteristic, attribute, etc., belonging to any person of the Trinity belonged to all persons; otherwise the divine nature would be fractured.

The distinction then, of the Persons of the Trinity, would seem to reside in the relation of the Persons to themselves alone, for the distinction cannot reside in any absolute attribute. Thus, following the Scholastic work on this subject, there would be 4 relations within the Trinity- 2 of origination and 2 of procession. (The Scholastics referred to these as paternitas and spiratio; filiatio and processio, respectively) From these 4 relations alone are found the 3 Persons of the Godhead, since spiratio is common to both the father and the Son per the West’s dogma of the double procession of the Spirit. Thus, the relation of the Father to the Son and the Spirit (paternitas and spiratio) is the Person of the Father, the Divine Paternity; the relation of the Son to the Father and the Spirit (filiatio and spiratio) is the Person of the Son, The Divine Filiation; the relation of the Spirit to the Father and the Son (processio) is the Person of the Spirit, the Divine Procession. (Here I think Western theology is better able to guard perichoresis because of the double procession.)

Because the Trinity transcends the Aristotelean categories through which Scholastic theology tended to operate, the Trinity is at the same time relation and substance. Since relation refers to something other than itself, and the relations within the Trinity refer to the Divine nature as subsistent within the Persons of the Trinity, the relations are therefore distinct yet the same divine nature.

Anyway, when I first considered that it blew my mind. I must confess I still find myself thinking of the Trinity like 3 guys with bodies sometimes…lol. Even in a prayer I say everyday, I tend to, at least semantically, divide the properties of the Persons. I say “I arise today in the name of the Father who made me, in the name of the Son who purchased me, in the name of the Spirit who cleansed me, in love an affection.” Which isn’t necessarily inaccurate- I just find that I have to continually keep in mind that the Trinity blows my puny little mind, and I find that the more I study and think about the Trinity, the less I realize that I know. The mystery is so far beyond me, that I am sure I will never get to the end of it, even in having all of eternity to discover more and more.

Anyway, those are some of my thoughts on that. Thanks for these posts!

I am debating jumping into a discussion pertaining to the trinity and physics, but I will make a general statement concerning religion and science.

As a physicist I am always annoyed when laymen and even worse trained scientist use “science” to refute religion. Any scientist worth his or her salt (intentional biblical metaphor) will tell you that the only thing we know, can prove using scientific method, is that we understand the laws of physics within a certain set of conditions. We call this a reference frame and outside that we know nothing for sure. Classical mechanics was the religion of physics until we discovered the relativistic, very fast, and the quantum, very small, regimes at which point our theology fell to pieces. We have some idea of the boundaries of our knowledge and we know the volume contained within the known is infinitesimal when compared to the volume of the unknown. Physicists are not the alpha or omega. We do well to be a lower case q. The most we can hope for is fleeting glimpses of Gods awesome glory and power as we attempt to understand this outer Eden and it’s (God’s) rules.


deviantmonk – I am in debt to you for your insightful comments on each of these posts. I am amazed at the depth of your knowledge and ability to articulate it. I particularly appreciate here the reminder of the relationships of the Trinity forming part of the distinctiveness of the persons.

[…] Another way that you might approach this question is to think of the relationships between the persons of the Trinity as what brings life and a deeper way of understanding. Each of the persons is given shape by the relationship to the other (For more a more detailed explanation check out deviantmonk’s comment on Physics of the Trinity) […]

I’m not a scientist, but I have read about some of the peculiar effects of quantum mechanics, which claims that subatomic particles can exist in two different states simultaneously (which is why qubits in quantum computing have an on, and off, and a dual on/off state), and also particles can exhibit coupling whereby when you rotate one particle, a separate particle rotates as well. (Experts out there, please forgive my rudimentary description!)

Anyway, I think it’s interesting to speculate if the Trinity works in a similar fashion — God literally does exist in three Persons and yet one Person at the exact same time, and when one of the Persons is filled with sorrow, the other one cries.

Jared – Fascinating. I appreciate your insight, regardless of the simple description. It is more informative than anything I would be able to provide on quantum mechanics. I am tending to agree with your speculation.

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