The Trinity before the Council of Nicea

I thought I’d clarify why I affirm trinitarian doctrine even though I am no fan of Emperor Constantine, a man historically associated with the Nicene Creed (325AD). It’s because, although the Nicene Creed wasn’t formulated till then, the trinitarian thinking it articulated hardly appeared out of nowhere. Christian leaders had been expressing themselves in these terms long prior to that. A prime example is Tertullian (160-215AD), an African apologist and theologian, who put it this way:

“We define that there are two, the Father and the Son, and three with the Holy Spirit, and this number is made by the pattern of salvation . . . [which] brings about unity in trinity, interrelating the three, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are three, not in dignity, but in degree, not in substance but in form, not in power but in kind. They are of one substance and power, because there is one God from whom these degrees, forms and kinds devolve in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

The Trinity in the Bible

Although the doctrine of the Trinity is not taught explicitly in scripture, it is the many verses which illustrate the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, acting as one, which bring Christians back, time and time again, to the question. Consider, for instance, this introduction to the first letter to the Thessalonians; the intertwining of references to God the Father, to the Lord Jesus Christ, and to the Holy Spirit, for a people who daily recited, “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Being Christian scripture, it is not something Christians can lightly ignore.

Paul, Silas and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in GOD THE FATHER and the LORD JESUS CHRIST:

Grace and peace to you.

We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our GOD AND FATHER your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our LORD JESUS CHRIST.

For we know, brothers and sisters loved by GOD, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the HOLY SPIRIT and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the LORD, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the HOLY SPIRIT. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The LORD’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in GOD has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to GOD from idols to serve the living and true GOD, and to wait for his SON from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—JESUS, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

Alternative ways of speaking of the Trinity

Sometimes it’s worthwhile to explore the Bible in its original languages. The Hebrew word used for the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament is Ruah. The Greek word used for the Holy Spirit in the New Testament is Pneuma. Both mean Spirit or Breath. So it is quite orthodox to refer to the Holy Spirit as the Breath of God. Now, as one of the titles for Jesus in the New Testament is the Word of God this raises some interesting possibilities for alternative language when speaking of the Trinity: instead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we could say Speaker, Word, and Breath.

Ancient Irish poem on the Trinity

Three folds of the cloth, yet only one napkin is there,
Three joints of the finger, but still only one finger fair,
Three leaves of the shamrock, yet no more than one shamrock to wear,
Frost, snow-flakes and ice, all water their origin share,
Three Persons in God; to one God alone we make our prayer.

Reflections on Druidic Christology

In his Reflections on Druidic Christology, Rev. Alistair Bate comments that, “As an example of orthodox Christology finding its way into Druidic ceremonial I would like to consider the benediction at the end of the traditional (O.B.O.D.) ritual for Imbolc; ‘May the blessing of the Uncreated One, of the Created Word and of the Spirit that is the Inspirer be always with us. May the world be filled with harmony and Light. ….’ In this case, the writer (probably Chief Nuinn / Ross Nichols, Chief of the Order of Bard, Ovates and Druids and Celtic Orthodox Deacon) was obviously inspired by the opening verses of St John’s gospel.” He then goes on to point out, “A more orthodox rendering of Chief Nuinn’s triadic formula might be ‘May the blessing of the Uncreated One, of the Creative Word and of the Spirit that is the Inspirer be always with us.'” I find I am very much in agreement with this conclusion.

It makes no sense to talk of the Trinity without the Holy Spirit

I’ve noticed that discussions on the Trinity between Muslims and Christians tend to focus on God and Jesus. But it makes no sense to talk of “Trinity” without also focusing on the third person: the Holy Spirit.

In the book of Acts there is an incident where Peter, one of the apostles of Jesus, equates lying to the Holy Spirit with lying to God. Peter says, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

Elsewhere in scripture it’s made clear that the Holy Spirit can be grieved and blasphemed against. It’s for this and many other reasons that Christians affirm the Holy Spirit is personal and relational, not merely an impersonal force or an emanation of the power of God. We believe that through the Holy Spirit, God guides us, empowers us, and sanctifies us. No discussion of the Trinity could be complete without the Holy Spirit of God and Jesus.

On the person of the Holy Spirit

I’ve noticed that discussions on the Trinity between Muslims and Christians tend to focus on God and Jesus. But it makes no sense to talk of “Trinity” without also focusing on the third person: the Holy Spirit.

In the book of Acts there is an incident where Peter, one of the apostles of Jesus, equates lying to the Holy Spirit with lying to God. Peter says, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

Elsewhere in scripture it’s made clear that the Holy Spirit can be grieved and blasphemed against. It’s for this and many other reasons that Christians affirm the Holy Spirit is personal and relational, not merely an impersonal force or an emanation of the power of God. We believe that through the Holy Spirit, God guides us, empowers us, and sanctifies us. No discussion of the Trinity could be complete without the Holy Spirit of God and Jesus.

The Holy Spirit and the Trinity

In theological texts the doctrine of the Trinity is often dealt with as part of Theology Proper. Personally however I find it more logical to deal with it as part of Pneumatology. For it’s not until the Holy Spirit is explored more fully that the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity can be explored more fully. And indeed one of the more debated aspects of the doctrine of the Trinity – the filioque clause – is focussed on the Holy Spirit. So, I tend to deal with monotheism as part of Theology Proper, the doctrine of the Incarnation as part of Christology, and the doctrine of the Trinity as part of Pneumatology.