18 March 2009

Trinity Troubles

It has been a week full of interesting reading. Nothing too major mind you. Just dabbling in the heresy of Arius and a few others.

Arius was amazingly long lived (AD 250 - 336) - 86 years (with no antioxidants or aerobics). Historians pretty much thing he was poisoned by his enemies just before he was readmitted to Christian communion after being previously exiled immediately following Council of Nicaea which, in the Nicene Creed, rejected Arius' vision of the Word as created by God; i.e., Christ did not always coexist in consubstantiation with the Father, rather God created Christ and therefore the two are not the same and the Trinity is not a correct understanding of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. However, Arius did not deny that Christ's death on the Cross or any other aspect of the Gospels. As Eusebius of Nicomedia puts it "We are persecuted, because we say that the Son has a beginning, but that God is without beginning." So, Arius rejects the Trinity on the grounds that he believed Christ was created by the Father at some point but before time itself. See Corinthians. FYI, Jehovah's Witnesses' have a Arianism kind of thing going on. See also LDS. See also Apostolic and/or United Pentecostals. More below.

But it gets better because there is the Sabellianism approach which predates Arius and Arianism and which postulates that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three different aspects of one God rather than three distinct persons; i.e., there ain't no three in one, its just God appearing in three different guises; i.e., it was God "himself" who was crucified when he appeared as Christ. See also Modalism. Then Arianism comes along and we get a monotheistic God who created Christ who died on the Cross. And then along come Trinitarianism that says hey its not one. Its not three. Its both. Its three-in-one; three persons but one being.

To summarize my no doubt less than perfect understanding:

= one god who shows up in three different guises.
Arianism = one god who creates Christ at some point and the Holy Spirit.
Trinitarianism = one god/being made of three consubstantial co-existing co-eternal persons (but not like Sybil).

As I am reading all this I think "well this is interesting history but not really much relevant these days I'm sure" (being the naive newcomer to faith that I am). Then my wife Charlotte sends me a nice positive email message from one t.d. jakes whom I'd never heard of (see, naive). I google the guy and discover he has a 30,000 member mega-church in TX or someplace. And he is defending himself as NOT a follower of Oneness or Apostolic or United Pentecostalism. Which is some variant on a non-trinitarian theology but the distinctions escape me at this point. As recently as 2007 in Christianity Today he wrote a short defense of himself. There are whole blogsites devoted to rooting out just what Mr. Jakes true views of the Godhead might be because apparently it matters a lot. To some people. Because apparently Trinitarian is the one true way though its pretty easy to see how the whole three-in-one might be a little confusing to folks. If you tour Wikipedia on this your head will spin. The three doctrines I have served up seem to have a limitless number of permutations, digressions and champions. All still have adherents to this date. See, Arian Catholic Church.

What's my point?

For some reason Christians (and I'm using that term broadly here) seem almost pre-ordained to figure out ways to disagree on subtleties and ignore the bigger picture. It also makes me realize that theology is important not because it can necessarily root out the truth but because it can make it clear that the truth is not clear at all under the microscope. Sort of like quantum mechanics. Yes, to the unaided eye the universe is a Newtonian paradise of order but get a particle accelerator and a dry erase board with a bunch of physicists, quantum mechanic types, a string theorist or two, and suddenly the details are hard to pin down down at the quantum level.

Ditto for the Trinity.

Perhaps that is as it should be. The universe is mysterious and unpredictable at its most fundamental level. The Trinity seems equally (and thankfully) mysterious to me. Between the three approaches, I'm going with Trinitarianism. Not because its commonly accepted and the others are heresies (believe me heresy is an attraction to me) but rather because it's so contrary to what I can considered to be a rational. The two nontrinitarian approaches kind of make rational sense. But three-in-one? Really? How can three be one? What is the sound of one hand clapping? The Trinity - yet another christian koan.

To me the more mysterious "solution" works better for me - even if it does look (on the surface!) like Constantine threw Sabellianism and Arianism in a blender with some ice and created Trinitarianism as a compromise political cocktail.


PS: I ordered the book Arius: Heresy and Tradition so no doubt there will be more posts about this topic that will merely appear more learned.

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