Sunday, June 01, 2003

Hey. East High school held graduations today! Congrats to all the grads. I'm sorry I can't make it to all your parties and such.
Speaking of parties the church bible study barbque starts really soon. I should get ready.
Hey. Heres the first draft of my trinity paper. You might enjoy this thing.
By Chris Halverson

In Arthur C. Clark’s 3001: The Final Odyssey Frank Poole, an astronaut from the 21st century, finds himself in the midst of a theological discussion in the year 3001. The question of the hour is if God is more or less than one. The arguments the theologians of the 31st century threw around were quite confusing to Poole.
No more confusing are the theological questions of the middle to late 300’s (Gregory of Nyssa), as well as those of the late 700’s (Timothy I). Their questions are often about monotheism in light of the doctrine of the Trinity. The Trinity is, “The conception of God as having three ‘persons’ or manifestations: as father, as son, and as Holy Spirit” (World Religions: Western Tradition Oxtoby 335). Instead of asking if God is more or less than one, they instead ask if God is one or if God is more than one.
The relationship Monotheism and Polytheism have with the Christian Trinitarian view of God is a tricky one. Looking back at the origins of Christianity it is quite apparent that it flows from the heavily Monotheistic doctrine of the Jewish faith. However, as this Jewish sect expanded, meet the non-Jewish world, and converted it, the Jewish tradition of Monotheism occasionally got watered down. Looking at Acts 17:23 Paul tells the Athenians that their “Unknown God” is in fact his God. What should the Greeks think of this? Do they just stick this Adoni into their pantheon? Similarly, on occasion Catholic missionaries in Latin America would replace local pantheons with the saints of the church, or at least that was how many of the natives saw the Christian religion. While Christianity was derived from a very Monotheistic religion, sometimes when it was accepted by Polytheistic cultures some of the traditions of those cultures rubbed off onto Christianity.
In Gregory’s Essay, “Not Three Gods” he refutes a critique that says either there are three Gods, or the Trinity is bogus. Timothy, in Apology for Christianity, refutes an attack on the Trinity by Caliph Mahdi, a Muslim ruler. The ruler says the Trinity violates monotheism.
The people Gregory is responding to appear to be Polytheists, while Mahdi, being Muslim, believes in only one God. As a consequence, while both Gregory and Timothy are arguing fundamentally the same thing, that the Trinity maintains Monotheism, while still accounting for the multiple persons of God, they are arguing their points from opposite angles.
Gregory’s first argument against the Trinity’s detractors is in the way they framed the debate, which was saying either, “there are three Gods,” or “not to acknowledge the Godhead of the Son and the Holy Spirit.” This is the debate equivalent of asking someone if they have beat their wife again today; either answer would be erroneous.
Gregory’s major line of argument against Christianity being polytheistic is that the Godhead, the multiple persons of God coming together into a single unity, does not refer to the nature of God; the nature of God is not what binds the three persons together. Instead, he asserts that the uniting factor betwixt Father, Son, and Spirit is operation. By this he is arguing that while, “men, even if several are engaged in the same form of action, work separately” “the Holy Trinity fulfils every operation… not by separate action according to the number of the Persons, but so that there is one motion.”
He is saying the action of the Trinity is like a mechanic tightening a bolt with a wrench. The mechanic might start out with a gentile tug, but as he continues he might pull harder, and continuing this overall tightening motion he may jostle the wrench handle back and forth to finally get the bolt as tight as he wanted it. Just because multiple forms of pressure were applied to the bolt, does not mean the bolt was tightened multiple times, or that it was tightened by multiple mechanics.
Gregory does not stop arguing against trinite polytheism with his own view of Godhead as operation; he goes on and debates the Trinity with the idea that the Godhead is the nature or essence of the three persons. He uses the illustration of three gold pieces. He argues that while there are quite obviously three coins there is only one nature of the coins, which is golden. To reiterate this point, instead of saying there are many pieces of gold, he would maintain there are either many golden pieces or much gold. Likewise the persons of God do not suggest there are many Gods, instead there are many Divine persons, or much God/Divinity.
Timothy I’s first argumentation for the unity of the Trinity is that it is our human perception that messes up our understanding of the Trinity. He writes, “Even in saying of our God that He is one, we introduce in our mind division concerning Him… We immediately think of a division that singles out and separates.” He goes on to write, “when we say: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we do not say it in a way that implies division, separation, or promiscuity.” What Timothy is meaning is when we see three cats we mean we see one cat, one cat and one cat, but when we see three persons in the Trinity it is closer to seeing 1/3 of God, 1/3 of God, and 1/3 of God.
Timothy’s strongest statements against the polytheism of the Trinity are when he maintains that the persons of the Trinity are in fact the aspects or descriptions of the Godhead. He says, “I believe in one head, the eternal God the Father, from whom the Word shone and the Spirit radiated eternally.” He also says, “The Father is in the Son, and the Son in the Spirit, without any break, distance, and confusion of any kind… as the colour, scent, and taste are in the apple, without any break, confusion, and promiscuity.” Gregory’s former assertion seems to elevate God the Father into the seat of the one God, and the Word and Spirit are relegated to aspects of the divine, while the latter one makes all of the persons into attributes of God.
The reason these assertions of the Trinity as descriptors are so great for a Monotheistic argument is because they diminish the power of the Trinity. No longer are Christians worshiping three persons; they are worshiping something akin to God’s joviality and intellect. Of course the problem with this defense of Christianity is that if this is the case the persons of the Godhead have no real power. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus is diminished to saying God has pretty brown eyes, and the Holy Spirit’s presence in the Christian Church is the description of the sound of his yawn. If person was the same as description Christians could add God’s beauty to the persons of God, or God’s love, or God’s mercy. In short there is a definite distinction between person and description.
The problem with all of these discussions of God is that they all use temporal examples to prove points about God, a being who is not temporal. Gregory’s example of Gold comes very close to being an example that illustrates the idea that, “God has no beginning and no end,” but it is not quite there. If he had deferred to the overflowing cup in Psalms 23:5 he could have had a more apt example. The Godhead is like water eternally flowing into three cups. Once the cups are filled they overflow, yet the water continues to pour out, and the water from the three cups will course into one another and become one stream. With three eternal, omnipresent, and omnipotent persons it is impossible to know when one stops and the other starts. In fact since all three are omnipresent they will be occupying the same place at the same time. They will in fact be one.
Gregory’s claim that there are more choices than becoming a polytheist or rejecting the Trinity lays bare one of Christianity’s problems. It can not reject the concept of one God, because “The Lord your God is one Lord.” At the same time Christianity sees more God than only the God of the Hebrew scriptures, it sees the God in Jesus of Nazareth, and the God in the Spirit who flows throughout the Christian community. The problem of the Christian Church is not that it has too many Gods, but instead its problem is that it perceives too much God, and has a hard time boxing the Deity up into one easy to swallow Monotheism.
The argument that best explains why Christianity does not violate Monotheism is the fact that the institution of the Trinity exists. If Christians had felt that multiple Gods was a “kosher” option they would not have formed an extra-Biblical doctrine such as the Trinity. The fact that they come up with this idea of Godhead to explain that the Creator, the Savior, and the Spirit are all one God suggests they were not looking to be Polytheists, and therefore Christians are Monotheists.
Of course to this idea that we can find or form truth in this world Timothy would say, “The pearl of the true faith fell in the midst of all of us, and it is undoubtedly in the hand of one of us, while all of us believe that we possess the precious object. In the world to come, however, the darkness of mortality passes, and the fog of ignorance dissolves, since it is the true and the real light to which the fog of ignorance is absolutely foreign. In it the possessors of the pearl will rejoice, be happy and pleased, and the possessors of mere pieces of stone will weep, sigh, and shed tears.”