Sunday, March 15, 2009

Re-thinking the shape of the Trinity: Part 2

The 2009 Trinity Blogging Summit is expected to be up soon at Nick Norelli's blog. The first part of my submission appeared on this blog earlier, near the original intended date of the summit, starting with the familiar image of three interlocking rings and using it as a launching point for talking about the Trinity. The remaining parts of my submission will be posted over the next few days.

Critiquing the TriCircle Symbol

An image is like any other analogy: it makes its point, but you can press it too far. At some point, the usefulness will break down. In the case of the classic TriCircle depiction of the Trinity, the point is that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct, in some ways alike, and inseparable. In this, it makes its point and has proved its usefulness. I expect this image of the Trinity will continue to endure.

The TriCircle symbol also partially reflects that God the Father is the origin of the Word and the Spirit: that they owe their very being to him. We might debate which of the two lower circles stands for the Son and which for the Spirit, but the upper circle is God the Father. In him and from him the Word and Spirit originate.

However, as useful as the image is, it has its drawbacks. It is completely impersonal. Father, Son and Spirit are reduced to geometric shapes. The Being of God is shown to have certain attributes of perfection, but this image of God has relatively little content other than perfection and interlinked three-in-oneness; it does not represent much of what we know about God. Also, in contrast to all the thoughts of God we have known through the Bible, the TriCircle God is seen in isolation. He does not interact with creation. He does not interact with people. The TriCircle God shows no intentions, plans no future, describes no will, proclaims no salvation. The TriCircle image does not show God in action or God with a purpose: this image of God has no direction. Here we try to portray God as he is in himself, and we portray God as he has chosen not to be: in isolation from us. In this abstraction, we have removed creation and humanity from our understanding of God; here God has no context. If God desires or intends our ideas about Himself to include how he loves the world, then our attempt to be objective has fundamentally obscured the picture in that respect.


PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

I am very interested in God/church/faith symbolism and I've collected information about this symbolism. This is because I've made some liturgical stoles. I'm currently making a stole with grapes/cups and wheat/bread.

Symbols, like metaphors, and like some sermon illustration, only go so far in communicating a message. I think we have to accept that and not expect more. They are a short cut, like a desk top icon, to bring the viewer to more stored meaning, from spiritual lessons we've learned in the past.

Of course, they have no meaning to those not schooled in any of the Bible stories and language or in doctrine or theology.

When our church's bell choir plays a selection, it is necessarily without words. Most often, I recognize the song and remember the lyrics, so the music has meaning beyond the notes for me. But sometimes, I don't recognize the song and it is just beautiful music. I've thought about those who may be present, like the teens whose parents never brought them to church ever before, and wonder if they get much out of the bell choir music.

Symbols without the background info are just lines and color.

Weekend Fisher said...

I had the experience recently of listening to some handbell music for which I didn't have the lyrics memorized. Nice sound, but didn't mean much to me.

So I know what you mean.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

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