Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Re-thinking the shape of the Trinity: Part 1
Nick Norelli is hosting the 2009 Trinity Blogging Summit. This post covers the introductory section of my submission to this year's summit. So as not to scoop the summit, the remaining sections will be posted here after the summit has been posted. The intended publication date for TBS 2009 is 3/1/2009.
Picture the Trinity. One of the images that comes to mind is likely the one shown here: the three interlocking circles of one of the most enduring symbols of the Trinity. Here I will set aside the technical term of Borromean Rings and refer to it as the TriCircle symbol, in hopes that this name is more readily understandable.
While we think of this Trinitarian symbol in holy or even near-mystical ways, it bears a noticeable resemblance to a Venn diagram, one of the simple types of graphs showing areas of similarity and difference. It would be tempting to think that the similarity to a Venn diagram is just a coincidence. But when we review the Athanasian creed in its descriptions of the Trinity, a large section of that creed reads very much as if someone is describing a Venn diagram as it catalogs what is shared and what is distinct.
When iconoclasts insist that we should make no image of God, the issue is whether an image could mislead us to worship some other God than the God we know, to substitute our thoughts about God for the reality of God. In modern Trinitarian theology, this one question has persisted: have we done that with the Trinity?
I have no basic objection to images of God, but every image does raise some questions. How well does the symbol reflect our thoughts? How well do our thoughts reflect the reality of God? My goal in this year's submission is to reconsider some of our thoughts about the Trinity by considering the images we use to reflect our thoughts.