I recently attended a class where the subject of the class was the Trinity – the Doctrine that God is one entity and is simultaneously three distinct persons. The presenter began by saying, “I will be teaching some heresy today; I have to explain the Trinity.” then laughed and assured us that we would not really be learning heresy. A few minutes later the presenter was well into a series of modalist explanations of the Trinity. Modalism is the HERESY claiming that God is one entity and only known in different ways rather than being three distinct persons.
Modalism is among the easiest heresies about the Trinity a person can get themselves trapped into. A common example is explaining that one man is a son to some, a husband to another, and a father to yet another or others. The problem is that this examples has one man in three roles not three distinct men.
The first we see the Trinity distinct in Scripture is when Abram saw the Lord near the Oaks of Mamre (you will find the story in Genesis Ch 18). In this account Abram sees the three men and addresses them singularly, My Lord. Good – Three persons yet one God.
There are other heresies as well – google “Trinitarian Heresy” and have a field day reading the many attempts mankind has made at describing God in three persons and failing in the attempts.
For a humorous look at the serious subject of Trinitarian Heresy watch this video
The primary trouble with all attempted explanations is that people are trying to use the created to explain the creator and it simply cannot be done. The second problem is that we, a portion of the creation, wants to understand. In understanding we strive to contain God within what we understand. All the while, the Bible reassures us that it is not ours to understand fully yet (1 Corinthians 13:12).
What was really troubling in the class I attended is that participants recited passages of scripture that clearly demonstrate the Trinity such as at Jesus’ baptism where Jesus was in the water, the Spirit descended and the voice of the Father sounded from Heaven. The classmate exclaimed, “It is almost like God is three separate people – it is so confusing.” Well, it is not that “it is almost like” it IS that God is three persons.
Sadly, the person “teaching” self-referred as “too old to learn this stuff.” To that I reply – If you do not want to take time to learn then at least do not teach heresies that have been anathema in the Church for nearly 1700 years. Try, instead, to teach what the Church has taught in its traditions and creeds since the days of the Apostles. True – a person may still feel as if he or she does not understand but at least they will be trying to understand the truth rather than understanding and then believing a lie.
From the Athanasian Creed we learn:
That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity,
neither confounding the Persons,
nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father,
another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the
Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost.
The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate.
The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible,
and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.
The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal.
And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal.
As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated,
but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.
So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty,
and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three
Almighties, but one Almighty.
So the Father is God, the Son is God,
and the Holy Ghost is God.
And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.
So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord,
and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords, but one Lord.
Easy right? – No, of course not – it is a mystery. Thank God it is not by understanding but by believing we are saved.
God Guard You and Keep You,
the Rev’d Dr SG Rindahl