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The Trinity: the fundamental of fundamentals by David Viles

Although defined as “the central dogma of Christian theology”, the Trinity is nowhere explicitly stated in Scripture. Rather, it is a sublime concept , progressively revealed by God in His word, which is nevertheless capable of deduction and acceptance by the finite minds of humankind. A classic description is “one God subsisting in three persons and one substance”. The words “persons” and “substance” are highly specific in this context – we will return to them later.

Whatever the Trinity means, it must therefore be fundamental to understanding who God is and what God does. The figures one and three are crucial to such understanding. Christianity will emphatically concur with the Jew and the Moslem that “the Lord our God is one Lord”, but will add that He subsists in three Persons. This fundamental qualification accounts for the continuing opposition of Judaism to Christianity, ever since the Son of God declared “I and the Father are one.” It also places Christianity at complete odds with Moslem monotheism.   

This may already seem remote and complex, but the implications are also fundamental in a much more human way. For John to declare that “God is love” has little real meaning unless God had Somebody to love before He created mankind in His own image – love involves at least two persons. Jesus insisted that the Father loves the Son with absolute candour and unity of purpose. This sublime love, subsisting and streaming eternally between the Persons of the Trinity, is presented to us as the fount of all human love and, more wonderfully still, characterises the intensity of the eternal relationship to which God calls His redeemed creatures.  

Basic as this doctrine is, it has never ceased to be controversial. For some people, the intellectual difficulty of encompassing a God who is both one and three is enough for the Trinity to be relegated to the theological backburner, or even rejected. There are therefore some basic principles by which the disciple will wish to be guided:

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