Christianity is a monotheistic religion, meaning that it is characterized by the belief that there is only one God. Many other world religions are monotheistic, yet, what sets Christianity apart from other monotheistic religions, and particularly, Abrahamic religions, is that a core Christian fundamental understanding of God is that of the Holy Trinity. God is one and God is three all at the same time. This is a concept that many scholars have written volumes of theological texts on, and people still struggle with. How can there be one God who is also simultaneously three?
My understanding of the Trinity has evolved over the duration of this course. When explaining the Trinity, my former starting point would have been the same place as most patristic church leaders, with the Father. The Trinity is as Matthew 28:19 says, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Most scholarly discussions regarding the Trinity begin with the Father and discuss how the Father is God and the Son is the manifestation of God stepping down from the throne. Philippians 2:5- 11 tells us that Jesus emptied himself of his power and took on human form to show us how to love, and the Holy Spirit is the wind/breath that moves through us to connect us to God.
After taking Trinitarian Theology, I have shifted my starting point to that of the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth Johnson in She Who Is, undertook an explanation of the Trinity that begins with the Holy Spirit. Most early scholars struggled to fit the Holy Spirit into the framework of God, seeing clearly how the Father and the Son fit, but the Holy Spirit seemed to be an after thought or the part of God that continued the work of the Son in flesh without flesh. However, God is active in the world and we know that God is at work and present here in this place.
Johnson wrote, “Everywhere that life breaks forth and comes into being, everywhere that new life as it were seethes and bubbles, and even, in the form of hope, everywhere that life is violently devastated, throttled, gagged and slain – wherever true life exists, there the Spirit of God is at work.” When we experience God today, we experience the Spirit. Martin Luther wrote in the explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”
Luther said in this explanation that he could not come to believe in God except that the Holy Spirit was working in and through his life to help him understand God. The Holy Spirit is active in the world and this is how we see God is working. We can not really fathom the Father but call God this because Jesus referred to God in this way. We also cannot really understand an interaction with Jesus any more than we can an interaction with Martin Luther or any other historical figure who is not physically with us in this time and space. But the Holy Spirit is working in and through life. Just like the wind. I can see the effects of the wind, but I can not see the wind, yet the wind still works in the world.
It is through the Holy Spirit working in our life and in the life of those around us that we are called to God. Through this action we come to know the Father and the Son. The Son we can relate to through the stories of Jesus in the Bible and extra canonical works. We see His struggle and learn that he came to help us all learn how to love and live. Jesus came into a world in a physical form to show us that love knows no bounds. He took on our form to help us all see that love is possible, even in the face of power and corruption. Jesus was the God incarnate in a truly historical sense, “the early Christian confession that Jesus is the Christ means precisely this, that he is the Messiah, the anointed one, the one anointed by the Spirit.” Jesus is the anointed one, filled by the Holy Spirit, as we are empowered by the Spirit to believe in and know God.
But what actually is the Holy Trinity? We can say Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or Spirit, Son, and Mother, or Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier, but does that tell us who or why we as Christians believe in a God that is one and three at the same time?
When I am asked about the Trinity, I always look to Andrei Rublev’s Troitsa. This icon depicts the visitors to Abraham in Genesis 18 and is also a portrayal of the Holy Trinity. As you look at this icon you see three beings who are all angels in the same size and form, they all carry the same staves in their hands, they are all sitting on the same type of throne and each of them is clothed in the same type of garments each of their own colors while having one color that is common to all three, an intense blue. The angel on the left is a depiction of the Father, as this figure is under a temple or a house. The middle angel is a depiction of the Son, as this figure is under a tree, which could be seen as the way to make the cross and it can symbolize the Tree of Life. The angel on the right is the depiction of the Spirit, as this figure is under the mountain, where we see in the Bible repeatedly where people go to meet God.
The Spirit is the way we encounter God in a real sense. Each of the three figures are the same yet different. They are unique from each other yet the same. The most interesting thing in this icon to me is the way Rublev depicts the centrality of the figures. Usually in icons of the Trinity the central figure is the Son and the Father, and the Spirit will be looking at the Son, yet in Rublev’s Trinity the Son and the Spirit have their heads inclined towards the Father and look to the Father, while the Father is looking at the Spirit. The Father and the Son are also gesturing towards the Spirit. This icon is an understanding of how God is one and three. This shows us that while the individual figures of the Trinity are unique, they are also the same and we experience God in a way where we can say it is one, yet all three are participating. We cannot experience the Father, without also experiencing the Son and the Spirit, or can we experience the Son without the Father and the Spirit, or the Spirit without also experiencing the Father and the Son.
This icon shows the relationship inherent in the Trinity. The three are gathered around a table, an altar perhaps, with some offering and are there in communion with each other. This gives an example of how when God created us, we were created from community to be in community. The thing I love most about this icon is that the icon shows us the three, each unique yet the same, the same and yet unique sitting is communion, relationship, with each other, and then there is the opening. At the bottom of the icon between the thrones for the Father and the Spirit, there is an opening. A place for someone else to join the communion, the relationship. This is really to me what the Trinity is about.
We talk about God in the sense of three figures or beings in one. That God interacts with us in different ways and through that we get different figures of God, yet the Holy Spirit is God, and the Father is God, and the Son is God each individually, but we do not only experience the Son without the Father and the Spirit, but we try not to speak in that way. God in and of Godself is a relationship. God is imminently with us and transcends our understanding. God is one essence and appears to us in different figures. The language gets in the way of our understanding, or our understanding is hindered by our language. We think when we hear, three beings or figures that they would be three individual beings or figures and each would stand alone without the others, yet with God the three beings are of the same essence or substance and are the same being, yet different beings.
We think we experience the figures of God each uniquely, yet do we? The Father is the one we see as creator, the one who lives on the throne in heaven and will judge all of creation. The Son is the incarnate one who came to save us from our sins and be an advocate for us at the judgement so the Father will see the Son and not us. The Spirit is the advocate for God in the world, the way God moves and works in our lives. Yet to say this does not mean the Son and the Spirit were not involved in creation, because they were. And to say that the Son is our advocate implies that it is Him alone, yet, the Father and the Spirit are involved as advocates for us also. Also, as the Spirit moves and shows God presence in the world it is not just the Spirit, but Father and Son.
It is also worth mentioning that while Jesus is male in understanding and birth, his maleness does not mean that the male gender is a more desirable gender, or a necessity to salvation. Johnson wrote, “The difficulty arises, rather, from the way Jesus’ maleness is construed in official androcentric theology and ecclesial praxis, a way that results in a Christological view that effectively diminished women.” Jesus was male because the time he lived, it would have been much harder to be taken seriously as any gender other than male. It was a paternalistic society and culture.
The Father is known as the Father for the same reasons. Jesus used that language intentionally. It is important to recognize this and to remember the female imagery of God in the Bible (Hosea 11:3-4; Hosea 13:8; Deuteronomy 32:11-12, 18; Isaiah 66:13, Isaiah 29:15; Isaiah 42:14; Psalm 131:2; Psalm 123:2-3; Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34) and that God is not male or female. Genesis 1:27 clearly states “Humankind was created as God’s reflection: in the divine image God created them; female and male, God made them.” Gender is a part of God as all genders are included in God. All of us are created in the image of God so all the variety of humanity is wrapped up in God.
So, what is the Trinity? The Trinity is the explanation for how Christian’s experience God in the world. The Trinity is an understanding of God lost in language, because God is one being or essence in 3 persons or beings or figures. Our language gets in the way of us having a clear explanation, yet God is one in three, and three in one. God is community in the Trinity. God is relationship in the Trinity. This relationship is seen in Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity where there is space for you and for me. God is the creator of all, the redeemer of all, the sustainer of all, and we try to feebly describe this in the Trinity. Spirit, Son, and Father show us the relationship they want all of the created world to live in and are present with each other through all of life. The Spirit, Son, and Mother surround us and guide us through life. God as Trinity is the relationship that can and should be the basis for all of our lives as followers of God. God is not merely one all powerful being, God is three figures of power in one being that show us what it means to be in relationship with another. The trinity is a relationship of love active in the world, and there is space for us to join in the communion.
 Elizabeth Johnson She Who is, p127
 Johnson p150
 Johnson p.152