Article 1: The Trinity

This post is part of my commentary series on The 39 Articles of ReligionArticle 1 states:

1. Of Faith in the Holy Trinity

There is but one living and true God, ever-lasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

As with any document to summarize the Christian faith, the Articles begin with a statement on who God is.  After the disciples recognized Jesus as true God, and after they received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, there was a great deal of wrestling over how to explain all this in the face of the ancient doctrine of monotheism – that there is only one God.  It was well established in the Torah that God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4), and Jesus repeated it in his own summary of the Law (Mark 12:29).  And yet, there now seemed to be three gods: the Father in heaven, the Son who’d become man, and the Holy Spirit.  They knew that these three were not just different “modes” in which the one God might exist at a given point in time, because they saw all three in action together at the great epiphany moment of Jesus’ baptism: the Father speaking, the Son in the water, and the Spirit descending like a dove.

And thus the doctrine of the Trinity was born.  The one true God, already known as everlasting, omnipotent, and the Creator of all, has three or “persons,” each possessing the fullness of deity, yet maintaining a distinct “hypostasis” or “subsistence” of their own.  Behind these technical terms is the intent to describe the reality that the Father and Son and Spirit each exist distinctly and can be interacted with as a person, even though they share one power, one will, one character of holiness, one existence or being.

A term in this Article that may strike the reader as odd is that God is without “parts.”  Meaning more than just “body parts,” this refers to what theologians call the doctrine of “divine simplicity.”  God is a “simple” being in that he cannot be broken down into component parts.  God is not love + holiness + justice + mercy.  One cannot consider God’s omnipotence as if it were a distinct “piece” of him, nor separate his wisdom as some sort of component in the great divine construct.  No; as the Scriptures say, “God is one.”  He cannot be divided into “parts” for individual analysis.  If that were to be so, then even his divinity and his existence could be separated out, and philosophers could have a field day with the impossible paradox that there could be such thing as “pure divinity” apart from the personal characteristics of God.  No; God is one, and his various attributes are inseparable from one another.

Another term in this Article that may confuse people today is the statement that God is without “passions.”  Surely, if God is love, he has great passion?  The term passion in this context refers to emotions.  God is the perfect being, and perfection requires no changes.  Emotions, by nature, are constantly changing, thus it is impossible to attribute them to God.  Where the Bible describes God has having emotions (anger at sin, compassion toward his people, etc.), these theologians have called ‘anthropomorphisms’ – treating God like a human for the sake of our better making sense of him.  God doesn’t feel angry or loving on an emotional level like we humans do.  Rather, God is angry or loving.  God is love by his very nature, not by mere emotional whim.  Similarly, God’s wrath against sin is not a matter of his losing his patience, but rather is the unleashing of his perfect justice.

About Fr. Brench

I'm an Anglican Priest and a sci-fi geek. Therefore, I write about liturgy & spiritual formation, theology & biblical studies, and Doctor Who. But I keep those blogs separate so I don't confuse too many people!
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