It’s Getting a Little Athanasian up in Here

Oh dear, Graham! I’m afraid everything I post in response to Alastair’s intriguing initial conversation starter will have, “That’s modalism, Patrick!” ringing in the background.

Alastair, thank you for kicking off this conversation, and thank you Bronwyn and Graham for your excellent responses and questions.

If I may, I’d like to ask a different question, one that I think all of our other questions are attempting to answer: Is the Trinity a helpful analogy for how men and women ought to relate to each other?

Genesis 1:27 says this: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (NRSV).  But what does that mean for human relationships? More specifically, what does it mean for marriages?

I’ll go ahead and stick my neck out there and say that it’s dangerous for us to speculate too much about the inner life of the Trinity, especially if we are doing so in an attempt to understand what godly human relationships ought to look like. Creeds have been written, people deemed heretics, churches split, battles (verbal or otherwise) waged over the exact nature of the relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit within the Trinity. And frankly, most of it is speculation.

The Gospel of John goes to great lengths to assert the divinity of Christ. John 1 talks about the pre-existence of the Son, that he was not created, and that he was present at creation. And while, 1 Corinthians 11:3 seems to suggest the subordination of Jesus, when read in the context of the rest of Scripture (the Gospel of John, Philippians 2:6-11, and more), the subordination of Jesus within the Trinity is decidedly less clear.

It’s interesting to me that this idea of subordinationism is still hanging on as the majority of the Athanasian Creed was written to refute it.  Truly there is nothing new under the sun. Here’s just a portion of that creed:

The Father was neither made nor created nor begotten; the Son was neither made nor created, but was alone begotten of the Father; the Spirit was neither made nor created, but is proceeding from the Father and the Son.

Thus there is one Father, not three fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three spirits.

And in this Trinity, no one is before or after, greater or less than the other; but all three persons are in themselves, coeternal and coequal; and so we must worship the Trinity in unity and the one God in three persons.

Whoever wants to be saved should think thus about the Trinity.

Well, all righty then.

Whenever we think about the inner nature of the Trinity, I think we have to do so with great humility, and with our sandals off. Indeed, this is holy ground, and we can never fully conceptualize God as God truly is. Because of this, I think we need to be very careful with social trinitarianism. Our human relationships should honor God. They should reflect the fruits of the spirit, which also means in some way they should reflect God. But, they cannot perfectly reflect the Trinity, nor should we insist that they do.

What can we learn from the Trinity that can be applied to our human relationships? Things like humility, sacrificial love, self-giving, and grace. In my own marriage, we strive for mutuality and mutual submission, but rather than claim that we live this way because the trinity is mutually submissive, we live this way because we believe all Christians are called to submit out of love.

Rather than social trinitarianism, it is the example of Christ’s radical self-giving and the call for all Christians to do likewise that compels us.