Visualizing the Trinity

What is the best way to visualize or explain the Trinity to someone?

Let me say first, that an attempt to diagram the Trinity is quite ridiculous. There is no way that God can be circumscribed in words or pictures. However, I do think that it is faithful to seek to understand and what follows are some thoughts on that journey. Most of this text was first written as part of a credo paper that I wrote for a systematic theology course in seminary.

My best understanding of a way to visualize the Trinity has been most influentially formed through a book written by Thomas Weinandy.

Weinandy, Thomas G. The Father’s Spirit of Sonship: Reconcieving the Trinity. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994.

WeinandyWeinandy’s central thesis is that within the Trinity, the Father begets the Son in or by the Holy Spirit, who then proceeds from the Father as the one in whom the Son is begotten. An attempt at diagramming this relationship is found to the left.

Each person of the Trinity is identified by and in relationship to the others. It is not possible for one to be present without relationship to and in the presence of the others. The eternal Father eternally begets the Son and spirates the Holy Spirit. In a sense, the Holy Spirit is the breath with which the Father eternally speaks the Word (Son). (Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 75) This explanation is consistent with scripture. It is evident at key times in the narrative of the life of Jesus Christ: birth, baptism, cross and resurrection. For example, on the cross, the Spirit enables the Son to cry out Abba to the Father. At the time of greatest need, Jesus’ Son is able to cry out through the Spirit to the Father (Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 29). This description also includes an active role to and for the Holy Spirit within the Trinity. This conception of the trinity is one that all traditions of Christianity, including Orthodox and Roman, may be able to affirm.

Here is also an attempt to visualize the differing understandings of Eastern and Western Christianity.

East

East:

  • The Son and the Spirit as the two hands of the Father
  • Monarchy of the Father is emphasized
  • Emphasis on three distinct persons in unity
West

West:

  • Emphasis on the unity of three persons
  • Spirit proceeds from the Son and the Father
  • Augustinian beliefs
    • Father is the Lover.
    • Son is the Beloved
    • Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and Son.

Bibliography
Soulen, R. Kendall. “Systematic Theology I.” Wesley Theological Seminary. 14 October 2004.
Weinandy, Thomas G. The Father’s Spirit of Sonship: Reconcieving the Trinity. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994.

This question came out of a young adult small group taster last Sunday morning in which I taught about the question “What is the Trinity?”

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3 thoughts on “Visualizing the Trinity

  1. Excellent post. I must confess ignorance as to this model of the inter-trinitarian relationship. Very interesting thought.

    Of course, this response wouldn’t be half as interesting if I didn’t have some difficulties with it 😉

    Each person of the Trinity is identified by and in relationship to the others. It is not possible for one to be present without relationship to and in the presence of the others. The eternal Father eternally begets the Son and spirates the Holy Spirit. In a sense, the Holy Spirit is the breath with which the Father eternally speaks the Word (Son).

    The difficulty I have with this is that it seems to destroy the relation of filiatio and paternitas relative to generation. Spiration seems to be an attribute of Paternitas and Filiatio (owing to the generation of the Son from the Father) relative to procession rather than a principle of origination for Filiation. If generation occurs through spiratio, then the Divine Filiation is not the relation of the generation of filiation to paternitas, but of filiation to paternitas and spiratio as an originating principle. Hence, the relation to paternitas would presumably not be a real relation and thus not a hypostasis.

    (Since spiration is found in conjunction with paternitas, and since the persons of the Trinity are distinct relations, it follows that generation and procession are distinct relations; thus generation refers to the relation between paternitas and filiatio. The relation of generation between paternitas and filiatio implies that both are related to procession by spiratio. Thus, spiratio serves as the principle of procession, and, by virtue of that being a distinct relation, doesn’t seem to be a principle of generation.)

    The Holy Spirit is conceived of (in western theology) as the love between the Father and the Son, but that love is not a means, for the cause, so to speak, of love between the Father and the Son is not the Holy Spirit, but the essential nature of God. What is meant is the the Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son in a notional sense- that is, the Father loves the Son by Love proceeding (loves by means of producing love) and likewise for the Son and the Father. Thus, in this way the Holy Spirit does not become simply an essential attribute of the divine nature but rather is seen in relation to the Father and the Son. (The act of spiration is a mode of will, so to speak, whereas generation belongs to intellect.)

    This conception of the trinity is one that all traditions of Christianity, including Orthodox and Roman, may be able to affirm.

    I don’t think Catholics would be likely to get behind it, since for them it is dogmatic that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit as a medium of generation would pose problems for them, as far as I can tell. Aquinas says this:

    “The Holy Ghost is said to be the bond of the Father and Son, inasmuch as He is Love; because, since the Father loves Himself and the Son with one Love, and conversely, there is expressed in the Holy Ghost, as Love, the relation of the Father to the Son, and conversely, as that of the lover to the beloved. But from the fact that the Father and the Son mutually love one another, it necessarily follows that this mutual Love, the Holy Ghost, proceeds from both. As regards origin, therefore, the Holy Ghost is not the medium, but the third person in the Trinity; whereas as regards the aforesaid relation He is the bond between the two persons, as proceeding from both.”

    Phwew….lol. I think my head hurts. I absolutely enjoyed this post, and it really made me think. A lot. 🙂 Thank you so much for posting this!

  2. Pingback: Equality of the Three Persons « Thoughts of Resurrection

  3. deviantmonk – You are welcome for the post. It was good for me to dig this up from my seminary papers.

    Your comments are well taken. I had to try hard to wrap my brain around your comments on paternitas and filiation, but I think that this is a valid critique. Also, thank you for the clarification around the love of all persons.

    THank you again for your addition to this converation. I truly appreciate your depth of theological thought.

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