Speedlinking – June 5, 2008

Visualizing the Trinity

What is the best way to visualize or explain the Trinity to someone?

Let me say first, that an attempt to diagram the Trinity is quite ridiculous. There is no way that God can be circumscribed in words or pictures. However, I do think that it is faithful to seek to understand and what follows are some thoughts on that journey. Most of this text was first written as part of a credo paper that I wrote for a systematic theology course in seminary.

My best understanding of a way to visualize the Trinity has been most influentially formed through a book written by Thomas Weinandy.

Weinandy, Thomas G. The Father’s Spirit of Sonship: Reconcieving the Trinity. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994.

WeinandyWeinandy’s central thesis is that within the Trinity, the Father begets the Son in or by the Holy Spirit, who then proceeds from the Father as the one in whom the Son is begotten. An attempt at diagramming this relationship is found to the left.

Each person of the Trinity is identified by and in relationship to the others. It is not possible for one to be present without relationship to and in the presence of the others. The eternal Father eternally begets the Son and spirates the Holy Spirit. In a sense, the Holy Spirit is the breath with which the Father eternally speaks the Word (Son). (Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 75) This explanation is consistent with scripture. It is evident at key times in the narrative of the life of Jesus Christ: birth, baptism, cross and resurrection. For example, on the cross, the Spirit enables the Son to cry out Abba to the Father. At the time of greatest need, Jesus’ Son is able to cry out through the Spirit to the Father (Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 29). This description also includes an active role to and for the Holy Spirit within the Trinity. This conception of the trinity is one that all traditions of Christianity, including Orthodox and Roman, may be able to affirm.

Here is also an attempt to visualize the differing understandings of Eastern and Western Christianity.

East

East:

  • The Son and the Spirit as the two hands of the Father
  • Monarchy of the Father is emphasized
  • Emphasis on three distinct persons in unity
West

West:

  • Emphasis on the unity of three persons
  • Spirit proceeds from the Son and the Father
  • Augustinian beliefs
    • Father is the Lover.
    • Son is the Beloved
    • Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and Son.

Bibliography
Soulen, R. Kendall. “Systematic Theology I.” Wesley Theological Seminary. 14 October 2004.
Weinandy, Thomas G. The Father’s Spirit of Sonship: Reconcieving the Trinity. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994.

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?”