Friday, June 05, 2009

The fable of the "Holy Trinity"

Some readers may suspect that in my postings on the three Abrahamic faiths I have been inclined to let Christianity off lightly, as compared with my strictures on Judaism and Islam. Could this be because of my purported Christian heritage? For better or worse, there is not much of that, in that my parents were resolute and unyielding in their atheism. During my college years I became interested in religion, mainly because I had to acknowledge its seminal role in fostering art, literature, and music. Later I acquired a different perspective, recognizing the truism that religion--above all the three Abrahamic faiths--has commonly played a malign role in contemporary politics and human relationships.

Initially, I focused on Judaism as the first in the set of three. Responsibility for the primordial dishonesty of this vast body of fables rested with the first of the Abes, because much--probably most--of what is noxious in Christianity and Islam stems from Judaism.

My reasons for addressing Islam were partly grounded in my reaction to what I viewed as contemporary Pollyannaism: the curious and counterfactual notion that Islam is a religion of peace; coupled with a credulous reluctance to challenge the pious legends that make up the received account of the life of Muhammad. The latter form of learned ignorance is especially prominent in popular writers like Karen Armstrong.

This piece turns to Christianity, focusing in particular on the dubious doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

The basis for the doctrine of the Trinity is commonly--though I think erroneously--detected in certain New Testament passages linking the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Two such passages are the so-called “Great Commission" of Matthew: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19); and Paul’s: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all" (2 Corinthians 13:14). A few other passages exhibit similar wording.

One of these is certainly spurious. The King James Version has, as 1 John 5:7, "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one." Yet this Comma Johanneum, to use its technical designation, is a parasitic addition to the genuine text. Appearing in a few early Latin manuscripts, it is absent from the more authoritative texts of the Greek manuscripts--except for a few late examples, where the passage appears to have been back-translated from the Latin. Erasmus, the editor of the Textus Receptus on which the King James Version was based, noticed that the passage was not found in any of the Greek manuscripts at his disposal. He consequently refused to include it, as he rightly suspected that it was a gloss after the fact. Not now considered to have been part of the original text, the Comma Johanneum has vanished from modern translations of the Bible, even from the revision of the Vulgate that ranks as the official Latin text of the Roman Catholic Church.

With more than their usual dexterity, medieval theologians even proffered claims of “prefigurations” of the Holy Trinity in the Hebrew Bible. One example of this exegetical abuse is the so-called “Old Testament Trinity” of the three strangers who visited Abraham. Artists have often preferred to employ this subject to illustrate the doctrine, which is hard to visualize. (In my opinion, it is even harder to conceive in the mind, but that has not been the view of countless credulous Christians, who believe what they are told.)

Returning to the New Testament, what we find there is simply a rhetorical formula of “Father/Son/Holy Spirit.” A moment’s reflection will show that one can habitually connect three things verbally without implying that they share a common essence. For example, the expression “Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe” refers to the fact that these three disparate towns were linked by a railroad.
(Imagine, if you will, purchasing a vacation plan for Santa Fe, only to have the travel agent disclose that one has been redirected to Topeka: "after all, they're the same place.") In fact the familiar railroad nomenclature advances no claim of organic similarity, not to speak of the bizarre notion that the communities are somehow the same: “triune” as it were. Yet we are asked to believe something much grander than that on the basis of a few fragments of New Testament rhetoric.

Thinking in threes has enjoyed currency in many cultures. Ancient Egyptian religion honored several sets of three deities, including the triad of Osiris (husband), Isis (wife), and Horus (son); local triads like the Theban triad of Amun, Mut and Khonsu; as well as the Memphite triad of Ptah, Sekhmet and Nefertem, These divine triads show family relationships, but not identity. The Egyptians also held that there were three seasons in the year, not four. For its part, later Chinese civilization honored three great systems of thought: Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism.

The approach is also common in folklore (three wishes, three guesses, three little pigs, three bears, three billy goats gruff, and so forth). In medieval Europe, sorcerers would reputedly sacrifice three black animals when attempting to conjure up demons. On the other hand, a three-colored cat was a protective spirit. In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1606–07) there are three witches, and their spell begins, “Thrice the brindled cat hath mewed,” reflecting such superstitions.

In common parlance, we distinguish among the animal, vegetable, and mineral realms.

This being said, the number three seems to have enjoyed particular prominence in Greek thought. For example, the Greek language has three genders. By contrast, Hebrew (like the Romance languages) has only two. Three was an important number for the Pythagoreans. Plato regarded three as being symbolic of the triangle, the simplest spatial shape, and considered the world to have been built from triangles. There were three major tragedians: Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. Later Greek thought conceived of the soul as having three parts.

In view of this profusion, contrasting with the relative unimportance of the number three in Hebrew thought, it is reasonable to conclude that the concept of the Holy Trinity is of Hellenic origin. And indeed most of the theologians who addressed this issue had a Greek education and wrote in that language.

Significantly, the Greek word "Trias," used by these writers to designate the Holy Trinity, does not occur in this sense in the New Testament. All this evidence points to the conclusion that the concept, like the word, was an alien intruder.

If the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is a Greek intrusion into the original Semitic base of earliest Christianity, when did it first penetrate.? It is impossible to say for sure. Some scholars claim to have found adumbrations of the doctrine of the Trinity in writers of the sub-Apostolic age. An early, though typically problematic example of this claim occurs in the Church father Ignatius (d. CE 107), who exhorts the Magnesians to "prosper . . . in the Son, and in the Father, and in the Spirit." As we have noted, such triadic formulae are scarcely conclusive. In his letter to the Ephesians, Ignatius maintains that "our God, Jesus Christ, was, according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost." Here Jesus is thought of as God, but the Holy Spirit seems a mere agent acting at the behest of God the Father. Ignatius does not say that the Spirit was "consubstantial, coequal, and coeternal" with the other two, as later orthodoxy claimed. No explicit Trinitarian doctrine of the equality of all three is presumed.

One thing, however, is clear. Crucial shifts in thinking began at a time when everyone who had known Jesus personally was dead. No one would have been alive to contradict the changes.

Ignatius seems to be professing bitheism (sometimes termed "binitarianism"), a belief in two equally powerful gods with complementary or antonymous properties. In contrast to ditheism, which implies rivalry and opposition (as between Good and Evil), bitheism posits two divine figures acting in perfect harmony. A curious sidelight appears in the ditheism of Marcionism, an early Christian sect which held that the Old and New Testaments were the work of two opposing gods: both were First Principles, but of different religions.

One must take Ignatius' bitheistic concept on its own terms. In the larger context, it is evident that doctrinal development might have stopped right there, and the Christian mainstream might have become Ignatian. Bitheism ratifies the divinity of Christ, who is coequal with the Father. As time went on the idea of Christ's divinity was more and more insistently asserted. I need scarcely add, however, that the notion of Christ as god is not an inevitable product of an impartial searching of the New Testament scriptures. Nevertheless, the idea of Jesus's sonship to the Father and his coequality with him came to be widely accepted, though not by the Arians.

Methodologically, the key point is this: one must resolutely abandon the idea (fetish, really) of the Holy Trinity as the starting point, understanding it instead as a point of arrival. Space does not permit limning further details of this gradual process. [Apparently, some useful material appears in a recent journal article: Mark Carpenter, "A Synopsis of the Development of Trinitarian Thought From the First Century Church Fathers to the Second Century Apologists," Trinity Journal 26.2 (Fall 2005): 293-319, which I have not seen.] I remark parenthetically that popular writers like Dan Brown are mistaken in suggesting that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity just popped up, as it were out of nowhere, at the Council of Nicaea. Such major changes in consciousness do not occur suddenly.

At all events, the doctrine of the Trinity does come into clearer focus as a result of the deliberations of the Council of Nicea, convened under the auspices of the emperor Constantine in 325. The Council adopted a term for the relationship between the Son and the Father that stood from then on as the hallmark of orthodoxy; it declared that the Son is "of the same substance" (ὁμοούσιος) as the Father. This notion was further developed into the formula "three persons, one substance." In a paradox that has proved enduring, the answer to the question "What is God?" indicates the one-ness of the divine nature, while the answer to the question "Who is God?" indicates the three-ness of "Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

Athanasius, a participant in the Council, stated that the bishops were forced to use this terminology, which is not found in Scripture, because the Biblical phrases that they would have preferred were claimed by the Arians to be capable of being interpreted in a heretical sense. They therefore glommed onto the non-scriptural term homoousios (“of one substance”) in order--so they believed--to safeguard the essential relation of the Son to the Father that had been denied by Arius.

The Confession of the Council of Nicaea said little about the Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the divinity and personality of the Holy Spirit was developed by Athanasius (ca. 293-373) in the last decades of his life. He both defended and refined the Nicene formula. By the end of the fourth century, under the leadership of Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus (the Cappadocian Fathers), the doctrine had reached substantially its current form. In ancient times it was challenged by the Arians and others, while the Socinians, founders of Unitarianism, began a more sustained attack in the sixteenth century.

My conclusion is that there is no certain evidence that the writers of the New Testament documents adhered to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. In all likelihood it seeped into post-Apostolic Christianity from Greek sources. Through the process of eisegesis, it was read back into the canonical texts. This tempting, but unreliable exegetical technique foreshadowed the later efforts by the rabbis to transplant their own inventions into the Hebrew Bible.

There is, however, a further line of defense. In modern times, Roman Catholic apologists have maintained that Christian doctrine has two sources: text and tradition. The doctrine of the Trinity stems from the second source. I note parenthetically that it is a little hard to understand why such an important belief as the Trinity would not have been boldly proclaimed in the New Testament itself. Instead, we must rely on later witnesses, trusting (not too wisely, it turns out) that they have faithfully transmitted the original teaching. On the face of it, this claim would appear to disregard a key feature of oral tradition. That is that, consciously or unconsciously, each participant in the chain tends to alter the formulation of what has been heard. Some of these changes are slight, while others are substantial.

This point can easily be grasped by recalling the parlor game known as “telephone.” A group of people form a line, and the person at the start whispers a phrase into the ear of his or her neighbor, and so on. By the time the message has reached the end of the line it is completely distorted.

Oh, but this does not apply in the case of Early Christian doctrines, say the apologists. The messages have a truly faithful guarantor in the form of the Catholic Church. One of the sterling characteristics of that institution is that it is unchanging--the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. At this point, most would be compelled to say, we have broached, if not actually entered the realm of fantasy.

The idea of Church Unchanging is particularly problematic during the first three centuries, when periodic Roman persecutions and the dissensions that the winning side sought to stigmatize as "heresies" wracked the emergent Christian congregations.

Some mischief stems from the translation, standard in English-language bibles, of the Greek noun ekklesia as “church,” instead of “assembly” or “congregation."

In modern English the word church has several meanings, including: 1) a building for public Christian worship; 2) the world body of Christian believers; Christendom; 3) a Christian denomination; 4) a Christian congregation; 5) organized religion as distinguished from the state. As is always the case with language, there has been much semantic evolution, a fact that the choice of words tends to mask or distort.

The Greek word “ekklesia” appears in 115 places in the received text of the New Testament. Almost invariably the English translations render it as “church,” instead of assembly, which would be more accurate. In classical Greek city states the ekklesia was a public assembly of citizens summoned by the crier; the group functioned as a legislative body. In the koine Greek of the New Testament the term refers to a groups of persons assembled together for a particular purpose. The meaning was never confined to a religious meeting or group.

The word church which appears in our English bibles derives from the Greek “kyriakon,” not “ekklesia.” The Greek word kyriakon is not found in the New Testament. Its Englsh counterpart "church" came into common use only in the sixteenth century.

This brief summary will suffice to survey the philological background. Let us now turn to the history of institutions. Reading the book of Acts and the Epistles ascribed to Paul, it is clear that the “churches” established in various parts of the Roman empire must be understood in sense no. 4 above; that is, they are congregations, and not limbs of some highly disciplined superorganism of the sort that Roman Catholicism represents today. This particularism is shown by the expression “seven churches [ekklesiai] in Asia.” The term easily leant itself to plural usage because that was the concrete situation.

In the light of these observations it is difficult to support the conclusion, common in Roman Catholic apologetic circles of yore, that Jesus founded THE CHURCH, an institution that is, to all intents and purposes, identical to the Roman Catholic Church today. In view of its unchanging adherence to primordial Christian doctrines (so we are told) we can rely with the utmost confidence on the Vatican as the faithful custodian of those doctrines--including the formerly unwritten body known as “tradition.”

These claims are vulnerable on a number of grounds. Even retaining (as convenience suggests) the conventrional rendering of ekklesia as “church,” it is crystal clear that that institution was quite different prior to 313 to what came after. In fact the two are opposed by almost 180 degrees.  

This change may be illustrated by the shift of meaning of another term. As the etymology suggests, “episkopoi” (“bishops”) were originally simply overseers or straw bosses.  They possessed none of the trappings of magisterium they were later to acquire under the aegis of Constantine and his successors.  

With the ecumenical council of Nicaea in 325 everything changed, and three patriarchates, in effect, were confirmed to stand at the pinnacle of the hierarchy.  One must be careful not to retroject Nicene norms back onto the previous era.

As far as I can see, Adolph von Harnack’s fundamental contrast between Urchristentum (the Apostolic and Subapostolic eras; and the age of the Martyrs), on the one hand, and Early Catholicism, on the other, remains valid.  Only the transition to the latter created the Christian Church as we know it.  This was a slow, often literally agonizing process that disembogued only with Constantine.

I turn now to the matter of texts.  Between ca. 160 CE and ca. 220 a grass-roots consensus gradually emerged in several centers as to what the “New Testament” should look like.  We have evidence of this complicated process from, e.g., Irenaeus of Lyons, the Muratorian Canon, and Origen of Caesarea.

In no case, that I know of, did people of this kind actually concoct scriptures.  They merely sorted out what they found.

So one cannot seriously maintain that the Church was prior to the the New Testament, which it created.  One might as well say that the Synagogue created the Hebrew Bible.  Of course, rabbis associated with synagogues (plural) MAY have established some sort of canon at Jamnia ca. 90.  But that is a far cry from their being progenitors of those documents.  Even the most radical Minimalists do not make such a claim.

The actual origins of the texts remain obscure.  It is unlikely, for example, that any of the Four Gospels was actually written by the“evangelist” whose name it now bears.  One thing is sure, though. Since there was no such thing as THE CHURCH in those days, it could not have been the progenitor of these texts.  We must reiterate another point. Never having existed, this phantom institution would not have been in a position to conserve a uniform body of “tradition” which it later "infallibly" drew upon.  

The texts are the only evidence we have, and Roman Catholic efforts to trace such such patent fabrications as Purgatory and the Immaculate Conception to some primordial oral tradition must be regarded as rubbish, pure and simple. That conclusion is, I would think, a no-brainer.  The same goes, I believe, for theat perennial hobgobblin known as "Holy Trinity." If we wish to understand Christian origins we must set it aside, adopting a unitarian stance as our governing hermeneutic principle.

Among Christians, the burden of proof for the Trinity lies with its adherents. Such belief does not appear to be consistent with the earliest form of Christianity.

Let me be blunt: the Holy Trinity is little more than a fairy tale.

[Note. Fairness requires that I cite some recent defenses of the traditional view of the Trinity. These are: Arthur F. Wainwright, The Trinity in the New Testament, London: SPCK, 1962; Thomas F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church, Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1988; and idem, The Christian Doctrine of God, One Being Three Persons, Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1996.

The Scottish theologian Torrance advocates something called Trinitarian Universalism. Needless, to say I do not find these defenses convincing.]



Anonymous Paul Pavao said...

Wow, this was an *extremely* unusual blog.

The history was accurate enough to make it clear you not only thought this through but checked out some decent sources. Most blogs like this are terribly inaccurate.

However, I'm assuming this was supposed to be an attack on Christianity rather than an attack on Catholicism. I don't think you attacked Christianity very well.

For example, on the Trinity issue, you mention the Holy Spirit not being developed "doctrinally" until Athanasius. That's true. Even at Nice they just said "we believe in the Holy Spirit."

I'm a Christian, and I already knew that.

One difference with you on the Trinity issue. Again, even at Nicea, the creed says, "We believe in one God, the Father ... and one Lord, Jesus Christ," just like 1 Cor. 8:6 says.

At Nicea and before, Christians would have said that the one God was the Father, and the one God has a Son, the one Lord, Jesus Christ. That's pretty consistent. Athanasius is largely responsible for combining the Nicene and modalist camps so that our modern "three equal persons" came about. Nicea did not promote three equal persons.

Tertullian, around A.D. 200, explains that in the beginning, God was alone. Somehow, in eternity past, he was able to birth his Logos, which Tertullian translates into latin as "reason or word," then gives an explanation of.

In fact, Tertullian (Against Praxeas, ch. 4 or 5) explains that the reason Jesus is called God is for the same reason you might call a sunbeam "sun" when you see it. Then he adds, when you mention both the sun and the beam, you "immediately take away the name of sun from the mere beam."

He says it's like that with God and his Word. Mentioned alone, the Son can be called God. Mentioned together, it's God the Father and Jesus the Lord.

Look in the New Testament, look at the Nicene Creed, look at any of the Christian writings between the NT and Nicea(except a couple lines in Ignatius, one of which you quote in your blog). They all consistently follow what Tertullian says.

The idea of one essence, by the way, is mentioned not only by Tertullian, but it's given quite fully developed in Athenagoras' Plea for the Christians in 177.

I'll add that Tertullian said that the majority of Christians didn't understand even what I just described--which is quite a hellenistic way of thinking, I admit--and they tended to be modalists (one God, one person, acting out three roles--no three persons).

However, the reason that it wouldn't be "fully explained" in the New Testament is because it was not as important to figure out Jesus and his atonement to those early Christians as to us today.

As 2 Timothy puts it, the foundation of God was that God knows those who are his and let those who name the name of Christ depart from iniquity.

That faith worked. It worked great. It worked great in independent churches, as you explained so well. Those independent churches stood in the midst of persecution and lived holy, exemplary lives.

Only in the 3rd century did they begin to grow larger, gain people out of popularity rather than faith and commitment, begin to act out of repetitiveness, and begin to produce a hierarchy. As that happened, they grew weaker.

Constantine and Nicea were just the culmination of that weakening.

There's almost always been people like those early churches, more concerned about obeying God than explaining him, fiercely independent, and wonderful examples of the teaching of Christ.

Those sorts of people aren't afraid of truth, and they don't depend on when the Gospels were written or a set canon or carefully constructed doctrines. They actually know God, and he takes care of everything for them.

I can tell you it works real well, and it leaves the more honest skeptics scratching their heads, wondering what to say.

9:10 PM  
Blogger Arsinoe said...

The Trinity might better be conceptualized and visualized by a comparison with something like the chemical formula H2O. Under different conditions H2O manifests itself as water (liquid), ice (solid) or steam (gas)--one substance in three forms. Under some circumstances we may experience all three at the same time. Imagine, for example, a pond that is frozen solid. At dawn the heat of the sun begins to melt the ice and all three: ice, water and evaporating mist can be seen.

My analogy is imperfect, but it seems closer to the idea of the Trinity as expressed in "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all" (2 Corinthians 13:14), than does your comparison to the “Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe” three disparate towns linked by a railroad.

As an atheist, I am no apologist for religion. Still, I find all of your essays on the Abrahamic faiths deeply flawed in that they are based almost entirely on texts, with little understanding of how these faiths are experienced and practiced. This lack of direct contact with any of the religions leads to interpretations that misrepresent, distort and trivialize the traditions that you are trying to explain.

4:39 AM  
Blogger The Gay Species said...

I might add, if I overlooked it in your post, that the Trinitarian formula at the end of Matthew's gospel is obvious emendation of a later date. The text is obviously meant to conclude with v. 15, to which vv. 16-28 are appended.

The only other "signification" of the Trinity is the epiphany, or Baptism of Jesus by John. I'll grant it is a stretch of the imagination that these "three patriarchies" are simultaneously represented (voice, human, dove), but who knows what people were smoking or drinking?

The general problem, of course, is the doctrine's absurdity, which gave Tertullian the fuzzy-wuzzies. It is logically absurd, and if that is supposedly the "mystery of faith," which requires the Nicene Creed professed in all historical churches, just how do these three different ontological categories, mutually-exclusive to each other, co-exist in the same godhead? The Father is the "omnipotent creative being," the Son is the "finite and deceased cum resurrected historical man," and the Spirit is the neither "being" or "substance," but immanence. These three ontologies CANNOT coexist logically.

Paul Pavao is mistaken. Tertullian was the first church father to propose the Trinity, in the second century.

9:56 PM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

Once a particular piece of ideology has been created, it depends for its survival on achieving a significant body of adherents. Further growth requires selling points. The resources for these encompass the venerable device of analogy.

Working on the draft of my Holy Trinity piece I had in fact thought of a comparison with H20. This is inapposite, however, because its three states--ice, liquid water, and water vapor--are all variants of the same thing: H20. Only the outward form changes, while the molecular structure stays the same. Shifting to the religious realm, when Zeus assumed the form of an eagle, a swan, or the nymph Callisto, he remained Zeus. In a somewhat similar way we commonly think of human beings traversing the three stages of childhood, adulthood, and old age. It is still the same person.

The instances invite no valid comparison with the triune deity. We are not dealing with three states, but of three distinct entities. Orthodox belief holds that there are three distinct persons, all coeternal, not three stages of the same being. Jack Miles and others have sought to portray the evolution of Yahweh through several distinct stages, but the figure thus limned is still the same person. Not so with the Holy Trinity.

Perhaps someone should attempt a typology of these various triplet formulae. My point, though, was that in the New Testament the rhetorical collocation Father/Son/Holy Spirit does not, in the absence of other information, compel one to subscribe to the theological doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

My purpose in writing the piece was not to survey they various ingenious stratagems to explain the concept post festum, but to determine whether it was part of the original message of Christianity as we know if from the 27 books of the New Testament. I concluded that it was not. Neither Jesus, nor the Disciples, nor Mary Magdalen subscribed to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

Once that point was established I sought to trace when and how the notion of the Holy Trinity colonized the early Christian communities.

I turn now to another point raised by Arsinoe--practice vs. texts and doctrines, I have no doubt that if one were to make friends with, say, a group of Raelians or followers of Aum Shinrikyo, one would find that they have found constructive ways of integrating their beliefs into their daily lives. However, that does not make their beliefs plausible. And, sometimes, as the case of the second group mentioned, the beliefs lead to violence.

Ah, but some will say, these are sects. In fact, there is no bright-line distinction between a sect and a religion. And if one thinks that there is, then the earliest Christianity certainly fits the profile of a sect.

For their part current events in the Middle East show numerous baleful examples of the abuse (or shall we simply say use?) of religious texts for nefarious purposes.

As to whether my arguments are distortions, I leave that judgment up to individual readers.

5:04 AM  
Blogger Arsinoe said...

At least since the beginning of the third century the Holy Trinity has been understood as having an identical essence. [Tertulian]

The doctrine of the Trinity has been stated as "the one God exists in three Persons and one substance, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." Is this so unlike a substance that exists as liquid, solid and gas? The analogy between the Trinity and the molecular structure of water is imperfect, but I still think that it comes closer to the Christian idea than three cities connected by a railroad line.

Trying to determine the thinking and beliefs of early Christians is interesting, if one is studying the history of ideas, but why should we think that any of the Disciples had the whole picture, or if they did that they spelled it out.

If one believes in God [which I do not], then it seems logical that a living God would continue to reveal him/herself to the generations that follow. For that reason, I have been critical of your essays on Judaism, because you substantially misrepresent what Jews believe and practice and the way in which they interpret their sacred texts. If God did speak to Moses at Sinai, would this same God become suddenly mute and cease to communicate to other great leaders of the rabbinic era? That is why Jews, religious and secular, engage in ongoing commentary, dialog and debate.

You continue to write about religions with which you have almost know direct contact or experience. To do so leads to the kind of misrepresentations that characterize the essays you have written. One does not need to believe what Jews, Christians or Muslims believe, but a responsible scholar would not ignore those communities.

What you are asking your readers to do is to substitute the Word of Dynes, for the Word of God and his/her followers.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

It seems that the central point of my posting is still being missed, and that is this: when was the doctrine of the Holy Trinity devised, and under what auspices? Once the notion came into being, various sales pitches presented themselves.

The latest, it seems, is the H2O analogy, which I find somewhat ludicrous. God is a frozen pond breaking up and evaporating at the onset of spring? That image might be suited for a Zen exercise but it does not seem in keeping with Christian tradition.

No matter how ingenious the analogies are, the historical problem remains: when did the fiction of the Holy Trinity first appear? If one wants to follow Jesus, as many profess to do, one will have to set aside this neoteric nonsense. For Jesus, God was the God of his fathers, the God of Israel. Period.

The idea of progressive revelation may have its appeal (Whitehead would certainly have approved), but it does not seem to be in accord with Orthodox Judaism. The doctrine of the Oral Law holds that it was all revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai; later pedisequi are simply uncovering aspects of this Eternal Law. In that respect Judaism differs from, say, Mormonism, where new revelations are vouchsafed from time to time. Of course, Mormonism is hierarchical and Judaism is not. In a pluralistic religious regime such as Judaism, how can one distinguish between true and false prophets? One cannot, and therefore it is best to cleave to views that have stood the test of time.

I shall return to the subject of Judaism at a later date.

10:05 AM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

Additional note. The stricture that only those who have had personal experience with a religion may be permitted to evaluate it is unfeasible and unacceptable.

It is unfeasible for the following reason. Modern scholarship has produced many insightful studies of ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Greek classical religion. It would make no sense at all to reject this work, much of which has a bearing on the study of religion as a whole.

In a different way Buddhism and Daoism have been usefully studied by outsiders. Ditto native American and African religions. I am myself conducting a study of Daoism. I am not going to stop just because I have not had the privilege of residing in a Daoist monastery.

In addition, such a prohibition is unacceptable--for the following reason. For a long time Roman Catholics sought to cordon off the study of their faith, restricting such work to those who were under the discipine of Mother Church. Such a restriction would prevent us from knowing the full horrors of the Inquisition, and the persecution of Giordano Bruno and Galileo. In our own day we have the scandal of the sexual abuses of Catholic priests. Today, Muslims seek to sanction, sometimes severely, those who would conduct a critical study of their traditions. And of course we are not supposed to look at such things as the Amalekite Delusion favored by the circle of Benjamin Netanyahu.

All these taboos must be firmly rejected.

12:54 PM  
Blogger The Gay Species said...

The standard metaphor for the trinity is the clover leaf, or maybe the Venn Diagram (but that is debatable).

That mystery solved, I think Wayne's seminal point is being overlooked. The testimony of scripture, itself held in suspense for 15 centuries, does not -- I repeat -- does not support textually the doctrine.

From another point of view, I applied the same hermeneutic to four liturgical texts of the fourth century -- the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, the Te Deum, and the Greater Doxology -- and show that these principal liturgical documents do not support the doctrine, but support three patriarchies of distinct ontologies.

We know Tertullian was an apologist for the Trinity, but he's a minor authority. Augustine of Hippo's "On the Trinity" is a tome of mundane mendacity, even Plato would abhor. Athanasius' "creed" has never been ecumenically endorsed. It's not until the Council of Chalcedon in 451 that we glimpse an ecumenical council actually confront elements of the doctrine, but this is well into the fifth century.

5:58 PM  
Blogger The Gay Species said...

"Substance" according to Aristotle was "undifferentiated mass," which becomes "differentiated" when connected with its essence, that forms it to its particular type and kind of being.

You can take it from there, as clearly "one substance, three persona" has huge philosophical problems.

3:15 PM  
Anonymous Paul Pavao said...

Just for the record. I'm not wrong. Theophilus wrote some 40 years before Tertullian (whose better called 3rd century than 2nd):

"The three days which were before the luminaries are types of the Trinity (Gr. Triados), of God, of his Word, and of his Wisdom." (To Autolycus II:15)

Tertullian may have explained things further than, say, Justin, but Athenagoras goes pretty thoroughly even into the one substance of God.

To Dyneslines:

I guess I don't understand what you're picturing as the Trinity. There are references to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit throughout the NT.

Do you mean the doctrine of the Trinity as it is taught today, with three co-equal persons? That didn't happen until after Nicea, so I can understand that.

However, as to these three persons. Would you deny that the NT says there is one God, that this God has a Son, and that people receive and are moved by the Spirit of God?

I'd say from Paul's letters and the Gospels to Nicea, there's differences in the depths of explanations of the relationship between the one God, the one God's Son, and exactly who or what the Spirit of God is, but the general idea really doesn't change much until after Nicea, when the modalists and Nicenes had to band together against the Arians.

At least, that's what it looks like to me.

7:09 PM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

I see no conclusive evidence that the Jesus of the Gospels regarded himself as divine. The pagan environment provides many examples of individuals who were the sons of a god, without themselves being divine.

The notion of the Holy Spirit has a pedigree in the Hebrew Bible. Yet it was never regarded there as the equal of Yahweh--such an idea would be blasphemous. Consequently, I see no evidence in the New Testament that this mysterious force was understood as coequal or coeternal with the godhead.

As I have striven to indicate, the habitual recitation of three items demonstrates nothing about their relationship--and certainly not that all three are coequal and coeternal

6:07 AM  

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