« The Trade Deficit as a Result of an Aging Europe and China | Main | Electing a Doge-- A Complex Electoral System »

January 16, 2005

Understand the Trinity: Mysteries and Contradictions

Last week I posted Biblical references in support of the doctrine of the Trinity, but without much comment. Today I'll comment.

My position is that we can't know much about the Trinity. I will call it a "mystery": a concept that has truth or falsity, but which we cannot hope to understand in any depth given our current information. A great number of Biblical passages cannot be understood except by some doctrine of the Trinity-- some idea that God is both single and has two or three parts, and that Jesus is God (I'll leave aside the question of the Holy Ghost for now). But I don't think we can understand the Trinity in the detail Church tradition has given us, even at the level of the Nicene Creed. It is not that I disbelieve the Nicene Creed; rather, I doubt that its expressions have much content.

First, though, let me explain that in saying that I believe God is both one and three, and that Jesus is God, and that we must believe that as a mystery, I am not saying that we should believe impossibilities. Let me distinguish between a mystery and a contradiction.

An example of a mystery is a miracle-- say, Jesus healing a blind man. We cannot understand how He did that, given our available evidence. It is not at all hard to believe, though, for someone who accepts Jesus as the Christ and the Bible as even mostly true. The miracle does not involve any logical contradiction, it is perfectly consistent with the idea of a powerful Christ, and has no implications that are falsified by current facts. We cannot hope to know how the miracle was performed, given our available information. But this no more puts it in doubt that does our inability to explain how the Druids moved the stones to Stonehenge. Historical events are often hard to explain.

On the other hand, the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation requires a contradiction. It says that the Communion bread is simultaneously bread and human flesh-- the flesh of Jesus. Putting aside the sacrilegious aspect, this doctrine violates logic and evidence. Something cannot be both entirely bread and entirely flesh. We *can* test the bread, and it is just bread. Wiggling around this with talk of substance versus appearance is pure sophistry. Moreover, nothing in the Bible requires us to believe in transubstantiation; the passages commonly given are clearly metaphorical and the Roman Catholics rely on tradition to support the doctrine.

The Trinity is a mystery, not a contradiction. It is an idea needed to reconcile Biblical passages that otherwise would contradict each other. The idea itself, however, does not involve contradiction. Plenty of things can be said to be three and one simultaneously. The three-lobed shamrock is an example. A corporation can be thought of as ten thousand shareholders, ten directors, or one corporate person. Scientific theories do this kind of thing all the time-- looking at light as a wave sometimes and a particle other times, for example.

What, then, can we say about the Trinity? What parts of the doctrine are really required by Scripture and logic, and what parts are added by tradition or by theory reaching beyond evidence into the realm of the unprovable? I'll leave that till another day.

Posted by erasmuse at January 16, 2005 07:32 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://www.rasmusen.org/mt-new/mt-tb.cgi/386


Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)