Trinitarianism and Monotheism: the Relationship
The Trinity is the most fundamental doctrine of Christian theology for most denominations in Christianity. It is usually described as God the Father, God the Son, and God Holy Spirit, three persons of one single essence, distinct as people but not in essence. But what does this mean? The persons of the Trinity are what is usually contemplated and studied by Christians, but the fact that they are God, that they share one divine essence, often seems forgotten or perhaps accepted without further inquiry. But the fact that the persons of the Trinity are of one essence, a perfect, divine essence, is what makes them God. God is the essence, and because the persons of the Trinity are of that essence, they are God. A favorite analogy for this that I will use frequently in this essay is one of many "images" of the Trinity relationship in life. Imagine three human people. They are each distinct, individual persons, but they all share one essence: all three of them are human. Human is their essence, and they are defined by their humanity and the qualities and attributes constituting what it means to be human. Everything they do extends from their essential humanity. The same applies to God. Of course, there is no separation between the persons and essence of the Trinity, just as a human could not be a person or a human; they could only be both at once. But they are individual, despite their intrinsic bond.
Most people who study, or follow for that matter, Christianity consider it to be merely one more monotheism, alongside Islam and Judaism. Monotheism is defined as religious belief in the existence of a single, personal God that is separate from nature, rather than multiple gods as in polytheism, or a god that is not separate from nature as in pantheism, among other forms of belief in God. And Trinitarian belief is indeed a type of monotheism. There is a problem with this, however. For most monotheistic religions, such as Islam and Judaism, God is a deity; God is equivalent with one person. In Trinitarianism, however, God is an essence, with three persons of that essence. To many Jews and Muslims, this idea is considered polytheistic, which goes against the Bible’s Ten Commandments. In fact, it does not go against them, but merely describes a more perfect, true view of God than other monotheistic philosophies.
Trinitarianism is monotheistic, because there is only one God, but it is unlike most monotheisms because its view of God is not equivalent to one deity person, but rather three deity persons of one single God-essence. Without falling into error, this view of God makes it impossible to fall into an interpretation of God as a tyrant, of His will and commandments being true because of who He is, rather than what He is. But in Trinitarianism, the persons of the Trinity are divine because of what they are: God. Just as human individuals are not inherently special because of who they are, or else status, wealth or power would determine someone's intrinsic value, which they do not. Human individuals are special because they are human - what they are. Their souls bear the dignity of God, in whose image we are all made. If God was merely a person with supernatural powers, as with the deities of the old Greek and Norse polytheisms, He would not be truly divine, but just an imagined human with imagined abilities. But because the persons of the Trinity are of the God-essence, they are truly divine.
This is the difficulty many non-Trinitarian monotheisms fall into: God becoming a tyrant. Because in other monotheisms, God is special because of who He is, rather than what He is. He is more of an emperor than a divine God. Trinitarianism cannot support this fallacy with any validity.
The Essence: an Explanation
The Trinitarian view of God is three persons of one essence. But what is that essence? The essence of the Trinity is God-ity, like humanity; it is the set of attributes that makes the persons of the Trinity God. Those attributes, namely, supernatural or spiritual being, omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, omni benevolence, holy, just, and eternal, are what makes something divine, and the only thing divine is God. At the fullest depths of reason, nothing else can be divine except God. Things can reflect God’s divinity by being good, beautiful, holy, and just, as Jesus Christ perfectly exemplified in His life as no normal human could do as well, but only in reflection and imitation, inexact and imperfect. Human dignity derives from us being in the “image” of God, meaning that we directly reflect God’s divine nature, but we are no more God or divine than the image of something in a mirror is the same as the thing itself. But because our soul also has a spiritual nature, like God, we can share in His nature if we are cleansed of the impurities of sin.
Through the aid of the Holy Spirit, humans, despite our limited and fallible nature, are able to be a conduit for divine actions and live in a divinely-guided way, through the Sacraments, and with the good and faithful living Jesus prescribed. By the Spirit, the reflections of God’s divinity in us, namely, our reason and love, are divinized into the perfection of God’s original version of those qualities. But this can only be by the Spirit, and not permanently. Things, places, and events that are made holy, I.e. set apart, by God can be perfect and divine as well, but only because of the intercession of the Holy Spirit in them, such as the perfect offering of the Eucharist, the waters of baptism, the cleansing oils of the anointing of the sick, Holy Orders, marriage, and all the Sacraments, places such as the Vatican, every parish church, and the Holy Land, and objects like the Eucharistic species, the golden chalice holding the Blood, and the parish altar.
God told Moses in the Old Testament that His name is “I AM”, and Christ used that name for Himself in the New Testament equivalently. I AM denotes what God fundamentally is, and, by doing so, it also denotes what divinity is: true, inherent existence and being. Non-changing, unlimited, infinite, perfect Being constitutes divinity, and all which comes from that. Love is the affirmation of Being, and all morality and goodness extend from that. Thus, God is perfectly loving as a self-affirmation of the eternal Being which He is and which existence is a reflection of, especially the human soul. In His love, God created the universe as an artistic affirmation of existence, and He created human souls as images of Himself in order to personally experience His Creation and to converse lovingly with Him about our love of life, to adore God and Creation, as well as each other and ourselves, eternally.
God instilled in humans the ability to discern not only God’s existence, using reason and conscience, but also His nature, the qualities that make Him a divine, perfect God, and by His personal revelation, through Scripture, the Church, and nature, He illuminates and perfects our understanding of His divine essence. Humans are born with a love and desire for life, for the chance to experience Creation. Identifying this in ourselves, we came to understand (with the aid of revelation) that existence is inherently good and the ultimate desire for all mankind, and that the Creator of existence must embody Being in perfect purity and essentiality. All spiritual beliefs, even non-theistic, derive from this and are fulfilled in Catholic Trinitarianism. As Being is the ultimate good, perfect Being, which is inherent, unchanging and eternal, all-good and unblemished by any faults in life that sin has caused, must be what makes God divine.
This is God’s essence, the essence of the Trinity.
Three Persons: one God-Essence
God created existence ex nihilo, which simply means out of nothing. Nothingness, however, is merely a concept. Nothingness cannot exist, or else it would be something. And because God is infinite, there could not, before existence was created, have been a nothingness in which God did not reside. Nothingness simply means that God created the universe, which was not previously there except as a concept in God’s mind, out of no material but the power of His mind and Spirit through His Word, Jesus Christ. Because fundamental Being is the essence of God, His divinity, it is necessarily true that as the ultimate loving affirmation of Being, He would create something outside Himself that was different from Himself because it was not divine, but still with Being.
This inherent desire to create is reflected in the life of living things, in our love to create. We are born with the love of procreation, though humans more fully reflect this in our deeper loving connection to our offspring and spouse, and in our artistic and other creative pursuits, which are sub-creative mimicry of God's creative act. Creativity comes from love. For example, human love of something, such as a tree, inspires him to paint a picture of that tree. And human love of one’s spouse inspires them to make a personification of their love creatively, by having children in procreation. In thankfulness for their existence, children love their parents and honor them for the love parents should give to their children, to affirm their existence and it’s quality.
The human familial relationship is a reflection of the family of the Trinity: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. While creativity is an essential necessity of God’s nature and character, the derivation of creation in love can only be utterly selfless, and thus utterly good and loving, when it is done for someone else. This is why that children should always be the personification of a complete loving dedication of one spouse to another, a selfless offering of oneself to that person in love. God is where this bond derives from. The Father is the original and beginning, the first and mind of God. There is nothing the Father does not know and nothing that does not derive from Him. Jesus Christ is the Son of the Father, who proceeds from the Father, the perfect product of the Father’s creativity, though as God the Son's existence is eternal and thus not creative, but eternally-proceeding from the Father in a type of creativity. And the Holy Spirit is the love of God, His power and hand in existence, and the personification of the love between the Father and the Son, and between God and His Creation.
The term “Father” is often misunderstood, particularly by proponents of modern liberal feminism, who feel that that masculine term being attributed to God excludes women from Christianity and any significance in life, though it does not. The Father is called that, rather than mother, for two primary reasons: for one, because while women are naturally receptive and passive, the masculine is naturally active, assertive and creative. Men give the potential for life, and women bring that potential into reality, cultivate it, and birth it into existence. God the Father is given a masculine name because He is masculine in behavior, being the ultimate source of everything, the giver of everything, but in reality, the Father is neither masculine nor feminine. He exhibits traits of femininity and masculinity in both Testaments of the Bible. It simply makes more sense, by the Catholic logic I described above, to use a masculine name for Him.
The Father is the mind of God. He knows everything, even things the Son and Spirit do not know. As Christ said, “Even I do not know the hour of my return,” because only the Father knows that. That doesn’t remove omniscience from God of course, because the Father has complete omniscience, and because He is apart of God, He makes up for the few things the Son does not know which can only come from the Father’s mind. From His mind, all things were made, and from His mind, the Son proceeds, the child of love and divine Being.
The Son is, as I have said, the Father’s counterpart of sorts, His child in loving fellowship of creative Being. The Son was also the Father’s primary motivation for creating existence, as He “had Christ in mind from the beginning”, with life being a sort of gift to His Son, and a way for God to experience His Creation personally as he intended to do from it's beginning. He made existence through Jesus, who is the Logos and Divine Word of God.
When God created existence, He gave it a logical order and structure that the rational human mind could identify and then attribute to Him. True randomness in existence is impossible. In randomness, there is order: mathematical probability, regularity, limitation of possible results. But true randomness is nothingness, which in life is exemplified by sin, something that was not originally in the intentions of God for the universe, and something which He will one day completely repair. Order is the opposite of sin. It is an affirmation of being. Though order is not the same as the divine infinity of Being of God, it is like a puzzle: complete, but the pieces are still structured, limited, and with holes between their connection points. Order is thus a sign and reflection of God’s infinite Being.
The title Logos, or Word, for the Son has many meanings, one of which is that He is the order of God, which is perfect and unlimited in infinity, and so Christ is thus the source of the order of existence. The Father made existence through the Word by giving the universe an orderly and logical character, an image of the Son’s own divine Order.
The Son is also God’s desire to not only create existence, but to be apart of it personally, and to then interact with, redeem, and bring to salvation humanity and nature, which He did by becoming incarnate as Lord Jesus Christ. By dying on the Cross, He paid the just penalty for humanity’s sins, removing our guilt and taint and reconciling us to God in redemption, opening up salvation to us through the grace of the Holy Spirit who He gave to us as our advocate. And in His Resurrection, humanity was shown that death, sin and the devil are truly defeated, and were given a preview of the glory mankind will eventually be in ourselves in the New Earth at the End of Time upon Christ’s return.
The Holy Spirit (though there is no real “the”, because Holy Spirit is His name) is the third person of the Trinity. Though commonly thought of as an impersonal spiritual force as His name might suggest, He is just as personal and autonomously intelligent as the Father and Son, and should be treated accordingly.
The Spirit, as He is also called, is the personification of God’s love; but more specifically, of the love between the Father and the Son, which extends out as God’s power in existence, the cause of miracles, grace, and other supernatural changes God makes in existence, all of which are the result and direction of the Spirit’s nature as the love of God.
The Holy Spirit, though with eternal existence like the Father and Son, proceeds from the Father and Son as their love. This proceeding, like that of the Son from the Father, is eternal; there was never a time when only the Father existed, or else God would be lacking and would have changed, neither of which are possible for God to be divine as I described previously.
The Spirit is also God’s primary gift to humanity. Before Jesus, it was given as the human conscience, God’s morality written onto our hearts as our permanent and unchanging human nature based on love and imaginative sympathy, putting ourselves in other’s shoes. And after Jesus had been resurrected, He breathed the Holy Spirit onto the apostles, and from then on it has been transmitted to others in the Church via the Sacraments, which grant grace and the gifts of the Spirit to their valid receivers. The Spirit gives us a direct, personal bond with God that is constant. He is always there in our hearts and minds, ever guiding us towards redemption in baptism first, and then the lifelong pursuit of salvation afterwards. He gives us discernment between good and evil, the ability to love in ways even our conscience could not allow, with utter selflessness and appreciation for the dignity of persons and indeed all of God’s Creation. He is the gift of God to man: Himself.
The persons of the Triune God have always existed together; none of them were created. They are also intrinsically and inseparably connected to their essence as divine God, their species of sorts. And as such, the persons are attributes of the essence, just like omnipresence and omniscience are. For God to be truly, perfectly divine, He must not be merely an impersonal essential divine spirit-force. He must have persons, individuals that not only represent in themselves certain specific attributes of God that could only exist in their fullness in a person, they are also the connection between God and the universe, His life in existence to make Him theistic, rather than an unconnected deistic God.
There are certain attributes that God must have to be divine, so as to truly be whole, perfect Being, which is the fullest and original good, as I described previously. But some of those qualities could not exist only in essence or character; they must exist in persons, individuals with life and activity in themselves. These traits are life, justice and mercy, love, from which goodness extends, holiness and creativity, and all which extends from the personality of God.
God is not physical. He is a different sort of being than we are, a spiritual being. This denotes the attributes of inherent Being described above, but it also necessitates one other attribute: life. By life, I do not mean existence, as something can exist without being alive. Life is activity, autonomous and intelligent. Without life, God would be dead, a mere spirit-force without personality, love or creativity. But life gives God these traits, which He must have to be divine. This requirement is due to a chain of truths: without inherent life, God would be dead, like inanimate physical matter. Inanimate matter was necessarily created, because it cannot create itself or give itself being and existence. Dead matter, being created rather than uncreated, lacks inherent being, and thus must change continuously to remain in existence. For God to have inherent Being, which is the fundamental divine quality He possesses, He must not have been created, and must not change, and so He must have life within Himself, as a sort of necessary proof of His inherent Being, showing that nothing causes His existence but Himself, and that He does not change but only causes change outside of Himself. To have a spiritual being means to have inherent life, as well as inherent Being, which both God and the human soul, as a reflection of God, have. Without life, God's requirement to be divine - intrinsic, perfect Being - is only imperfectly affirmed and represented, and thus His divinity would be removed.
Another required quality for God to possess to be divine is love, which as I described before is an affirmation of Being. Without love, God is dead; His existence is not affirmed, not glorified, merely there. But with love, God’s Being is affirmed by illustrating the life of God in activity, relationships within Himself and with His Creation.
Because of the sin Satan caused in the universe, death is apart of existence now. It is the denial, rather than the affirmation, of Being symbolically by causing the removal of the spiritual life of all living things from their bodies, leaving the bodies nothing but dead matter, though still bearing the dignity of the spirit that was in it. And because of human original sin, we are all tempted to give into Satan’s temptations to live a life of death by sinning. In God’s perfect understanding of the victimization of humanity by Satan, He gave us justice, accompanied by mercy. From the grace of God‘s mercy, humanity is able to repent of our sins, our death removed by the forgiveness we receive by our sorrow.
Some, however, do not repent. For those who do not know about God’s mercy through Christ and the Holy Spirit, He judges by their conscience and their hope in the goodness of Being. But some who are aware of the truth knowingly go against it, doing what is wrong and sinful without repentance. This is not merely wrong. Because sin is death, when one follows it willingly, one aligns oneself with death, inviting it into the body and soul. By God’s justice, He allots death to those who willingly choose it, to varying degrees, and life to those who choose Him over sin. Nothing less could be a perfect affirmation of Being. If God accepted those with death in themselves, He would be affirming death rather than Being, which would make His proclamation of the goodness of Being imperfect, removing His divinity. But, as His justice is combined with mercy, He gives everyone the opportunity to repent of their sins and through penance, have their death removed from them by replacing it with the goodness of life.
Every human was created by God to be with Him forever, and by His love we are able to communicate with Him in life, in modern times primarily by Christ in the Eucharist and the Holy Spirit in many different ways. The persons of the Trinity are our ultimate relating point with God and are the ultimate object of human joy, imitation and sense of belonging in life.
The Mystery of God
Although by God’s perfect love, He made us capable of recognizing His existence and has also interacted with us personally in revelation, the human mind is ultimately limited and fallible. We can never truly understand God, His nature and qualities. But we can understand Him well enough however, by the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit in our minds. There are things about Him we are simply not meant to know while we are alive, and it is an act of faith to accept that truth. We can also never truly comprehend His divinity, both because He is divine, and because we are not. But we can all look forward in hope to the time when the Earth will be renewed, it’s taint of sin removed, and spiritual life imbued into every part of the universe. Our souls will be combined with our bodies, as Christ’s soul and body were combined in the resurrection, and there will be no more death in the world. We will be able to contemplate and love God eternally, to enjoy His Creation, one another, and ourselves in perfect beauty forever, and will exist in the divinity of Being in perpetual, satisfactory happiness.