The Importance of the Trinity

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This passage from Chesterton’s eighth chapter in Orthodoxy, “The Romance of Orthodoxy”, reminds me of something that C.S. Lewis argued- namely, the essential idea of a Trinitarian God and how, like our sun, it enlightens all other aspects of classical theism, especially the idea that God is love (1 John 4:8).

C.S. Lewis noted that when Christians say that “God is love”, we mean something very specific and something that is quite unique to Christianity.  At the heart of this statement is the mystery of the Trinity and Lewis and Chesterton both contended that without the Trinity, this statement is nonsensical.

Lewis wrote in his book, Mere Christianity that Christians “believe that the living, dynamic activity of love has been going on in God forever and has created everything else.”

He writes that, “all sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that ‘God is love’. But they seem not to notice that the words ‘God is love’ have no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love.”

He conitinues: “it is perhaps the most important difference between Christianity and all other religions: that in Christianity God is not a static thing—not even a person—but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance. The union between the Father and the Son is such a live concrete thing that this union itself is also a Person. I know this is almost inconceivable, but look at it thus. You know that among human beings, when they get together in a family, or a club, or a trade union, people talk about the ‘spirit’ of that family, or club, or trade union. They talk about its ‘spirit’ because the individual members, when they are together, do really develop particular ways of talking and behaving which they would not have if they were apart. It is as if a sort of communal personality came into existence. Of course, it is not a real person: it is only rather like a person. But that is just one of the differences between God and us. What grows out of the joint life of the Father and Son is a real Person, is in fact the Third of the three Persons who are God.”

This sounds remarkably like something that Chesterton wrote in his book, Orthodoxy in a discussion about the differences between the concept of God in Islam (and other strictly non-Trinitarian monotheists) and Christianity.  Such different beliefs have a direct consequence on our understanding of love – both of God and of our neighbor.  Chesterton writes:

“The complex God of the Athanasian Creed may be an enigma for the intellect; but He is far less likely to gather the mystery and cruelty of a Sultan than the lonely god of Omar or Mahomet. The god who is a mere awful unity is not only a king but an Eastern king. The heart of humanity, especially of European humanity, is certainly much more satisfied by the strange hints and symbols that gather round the Trinitarian idea, the image of a council at which mercy pleads as well as justice, the conception of a sort of liberty and variety existing even in the inmost chamber of the world. For Western religion has always felt keenly the idea ‘it is not well for man to be alone.’ The social instinct asserted itself everywhere as when the Eastern idea of hermits was practically expelled by the Western idea of monks. So even asceticism became brotherly; and the Trappists were sociable even when they were silent. If this love of a living complexity be our test, it is certainly healthier to have the Trinitarian religion than the Unitarian. For to us Trinitarians (if I may say it with reverence) — to us God Himself is a society. It is indeed a fathomless mystery of theology, and even if I were theologian enough to deal with it directly, it would not be relevant to do so here. Suffice it to say here that this triple enigma is as comforting as wine and open as an English fireside; that this thing that bewilders the intellect utterly quiets the heart: but out of the desert, from the dry places and, the dreadful suns, come the cruel children of the lonely God; the real Unitarians who with scimitar in hand have laid waste the world. For it is not well for God to be alone.”

For Chesterton, this paradox of the Trinity was an example (like human free-will) of a “seed of dogma” that when put “in a central darkness” or mystery it “branches forth in all directions with abounding natural [and rational] health”.  In other words, this doctrine is difficult to understand in and of itself, not unlike the difficulty of looking at the sun directly with the naked eye.  Still, like the sun, it enables us to see everything in this world more clearly.  He writes in his chapter “The Maniac” that,

“the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms for ever without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox in its centre it can grow without changing . . . Symbols alone are of even a cloudy value in speaking of this deep matter; and another symbol from physical nature will express sufficiently well the real place of mysticism before mankind. The one created thing which we cannot look at is the one thing in the light of which we look at everything — Like the sun at noonday, mysticism explains everything else by the blaze of its own victorious invisibility — Detached intellectualism is (in the exact sense of a popular phrase) all moonshine; for it is light without heat, and it is secondary light, reflected from a dead world. But the Greeks were right when they made Apollo the god both of imagination and of sanity; for he was both the patron of poetry and the patron of healing. Of necessary dogmas and a special creed I shall speak later. But that transcendentalism by which all men live has primarily much the position of the sun in the sky. We are conscious of it as of a kind of splendid confusion; it is something both shining and shapeless, at once a blaze and a blur. But the circle of the moon is as clear and unmistakable, as recurrent and inevitable, as the circle of Euclid on a blackboard. For the moon is utterly reasonable; and the moon is the mother of lunatics and has given to them all her name.”

Lewis echoed this sentiment when he said in his famous sermon “The Weight of Glory”, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

Here is another excellent resource on this subject from Dr. Peter Kreeft of Boston University:  “Love Sees with New Eyes”.

And, from philosopher Peter S. Williams.

 

 

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