Trinity, river rising in N Texas in three forks; the Clear Fork runs into the West Fork at Fort Worth, and the Elm Fork joins the West Fork at Dallas. The Trinity then flows c.510 mi (820 km) SE to Trinity Bay, an arm of Galveston Bay. The waters of upper tributaries and the main stream are impounded in numerous reservoirs that provide water for the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area; flood control; and water for irrigation. The largest reservoir, Garza-Little Elm, is impounded by Lewisville Dam (completed 1955) on the Elm Fork. The Trinity valley has a greater population and the majority of industrial development as opposed to other river basins in Texas. Massive flooding of the river occurred in the spring of 1990, recorded as among the nation's worst floods in the 20th cent.
Trinity [Lat.,=threefoldness], fundamental doctrine in Christianity, by which God is considered as existing in three persons. While the doctrine is not explicitly taught in the New Testament, early Christian communities testified to a perception that Jesus was God in the flesh; the idea of the Trinity has been inferred from the Gospel of St. John. The developed doctrine of the Trinity purports that God exists in three coequal and coeternal elements—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (see creed 1). It sees these "persons" as constituted by their mutual relations, yet does not mean that God in his essence is Father, or a male deity. Jesus spoke of a relation of mutual giving and love with the Father, which believers could also enjoy through the Spirit. The Trinity is commemorated liturgically in the Western Church on Trinity Sunday. For systems denying the Trinity, see Unitarianism.

See studies by L. Hodgson (1960) and A. W. Wainwright (1962); G. L. Prestige, God in Patristic Thought (repr. 1964); J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (1977); E. Jüngel, God as the Mystery of the World (1983).

The Trinity is a Christian doctrine, stating that God exists as three persons, or in the Greek hypostases, but is one being. The persons are understood to exist as God the Father, God the Son (incarnate as Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit. Since the beginning of the third century the doctrine of the Trinity has been stated as "that the one God exists in three Persons and one substance, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." Trinitarianism, belief in the Trinity, is a mark of Oriental and Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and all the mainstream traditions arising from the Protestant Reformation, such as Anglicanism, Lutheranism and Presbyterianism; and the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church describes the Trinity as "the central dogma of Christian theology".

This doctrine is in contrast to Nontrinitarian positions which include Binitarianism (one deity/two persons), Unitarianism (one deity/one person), the Oneness belief held by certain Pentecostal groups, Modalism, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' view of the Godhead as three separate beings who are one in purpose rather than essence.

The doctrine of the Trinity was of particular importance historically. The conflict with Arianism and other competing theological concepts during the fourth century became the first major doctrinal confrontation in Church history. It had a particularly lasting effect within the Western Roman Empire where the Germanic Arians and the Nicene Christians formed segregated social orders.


The English word "Trinity" is derived from Latin "Trinitas", meaning "the number three, a triad". This abstract noun is formed from the adjective trinus (three each, threefold, triple), as the word unitas is the abstract noun formed from unus (one).

The corresponding word in Greek is "Τριάς", meaning "a set of three" or "the number three.

The first recorded use of this Greek word in Christian theology (though not about the Divine Trinity) was by Theophilus of Antioch in about 170. He wrote:

"In like manner also the three days which were before the luminaries, are types of the Trinity [Τριάδος], of God, and His Word, and His wisdom. And the fourth is the type of man, who needs light, that so there may be God, the Word, wisdom, man.

Tertullian, a Latin theologian who wrote in the early third century, is credited with using the words "Trinity, "person" and "substance to explain that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are "one in essence – not one in Person.

About a century later, in 325, the First Council of Nicaea established the doctrine of the Trinity as orthodoxy and adopted the Nicene Creed that described Christ as "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance (homoousios) with the Father."

Trinity in Scripture

Neither of the words "Trinity" nor "Triunity" appear in the Old Testament or New Testament, but the concept has its basis in an understanding of scriptural teaching.

Theology teaches that the concept of the Trinity was introduced by Jesus Christ Himself, including in Matthew 28:19-20. "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." Jesus thus not only defines the Trinity, but appears to indicate that there is one name that encompasses the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Some believe the concept was introduced in the Old Testament book of Isaiah written around 700 years before Jesus, copies of which were preserved from 300 years before Jesus in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Isaiah 9 prophesies "6 For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Thus a Son who will be born at a particular point in history (to a virgin, see ) is also "Mighty God, Everlasting Father." This is the Christian teaching that God exists simultaneously as the Eternal God and also as a Son (Jesus) born to a virgin. Isaiah refers to the Son as "Mighty God, Everlasting Father."

The Apostle John opens his Gospel by declaring "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made." The rest of John Chapter 1 makes it clear that "the Word" refers to Jesus the Christ. Thus John introduces a seemingly impossible contradiction, that Jesus both "was with God" and "was God" at the same time, and that was true from the beginning of creation. John also portrays Jesus Christ as the Creator of the Universe, such that "without him nothing was made that has been made." Such a paradox is fundamentally impossible, and it is thus believed that only a divine being could be both with God and be God.

John is identified as the "one whom Jesus loved" thus perhaps being the closest Apostle to Jesus. In John 19:26, Jesus also instructed John to adopt Jesus' mother Mary as John's own in Mary's old age, such that John would have had the entire knowledge of Jesus' family when writing his Gospel.

Jesus frequently referred to the "Father" as God as distinct from Himself, but also discussed "The Holy Spirit" as a being distinct from either God the Father or Jesus Himself. "These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you." John 14:25-26 In this passage, Jesus portrays the Father sending the Holy Spirit – that is the Father and the Holy Spirit are two distinctly different persons, and portrays both the Father and the Holy Spirit as distinct from Jesus Himself. Thus even apart from whether Jesus was God, Jesus tells us that the Father and the Holy Spirit are two different persons, both of them Divine. In the same way, the Old Testament frequently refers to "the Spirit of God" as something slightly different from God Himself.

The Old Testament refers to God's Word, his Spirit, and Wisdom. These have been interpreted as adumbrations of the doctrine of the Trinity, as have been also narratives such as the appearance of the three men to Abraham in . Some Church Fathers believed that a knowledge of the mystery was granted to the Prophets and saints of the Old Dispensation, and they identified the divine messenger of , , , , and Wisdom of the sapiential books with the Son, and "the spirit of the Lord" with the Holy Spirit. However, it is generally agreed that it would go beyond the intention and spirit of the Old Testament to correlate these notions directly with later Trinitarian doctrine.

The New Testament does not use the word "Τριάς" (Trinity) nor explicitly teach it, but provides the material upon which the doctrine of the Trinity is based. It required reflection by the earliest Christians on the coming of Jesus Christ and of what they believed to be the presence and power of God among them, which they called the Holy Spirit; and it associated the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in such passages as the Great Commission: "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" and Paul the Apostle"s blessing: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all" while at the same time not contradicting the Jewish Shema Yisrael: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord" ().

The fourth Gospel also elaborates on the role of Holy Spirit, sent as an advocate for believers. The immediate context of these verses was providing "assurance of the presence and power of God both in the ministry of Jesus and the ongoing life of the community"; but, beyond this immediate context, these verses raised questions of relationship between Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, especially as concerns their distinction and their unity. These questions were hotly debated over the ensuing centuries, and mainstream Christianity resolved the issues by drawing up creeds.

However, some scholars dispute the authenticity of the Trinity and argue that the doctrine is the result of "later theological interpretations of Christ's nature and function" (Harris 427-28) argued in debate and treatises. The concept was expressed in early writings from the beginning of the second century forward.

Various passages from both the Christian and Hebrew scriptures have been cited as supporting this doctrine, while other passages are cited as opposing it.

Scriptural texts cited as implying support

To support Trinitarianism, Bible exegetes cite references to the Trinity, to Jesus as God, and both to God alone and to Jesus as the Savior.

The diverse references to God, Jesus, and the Spirit found in the New Testament were later systematized into the idea of a Trinity – one God subsisting in three persons and one substance – in order to combat heretical tendencies of how the three are related and to defend the church against charges of worshipping two or three gods. The doctrine itself was not explicitly stated in the New Testament and no New Testament writer expounds on the relationship among the three in the detail of that later writers do. Thus, while Matthew records a special connection between God the Father and Jesus the Son (e.g. 11:27), he falls short of claiming that Jesus is equal with God. (cf. 24:36).

The most influential New Testament text was the reference to the three Persons in the baptismal formula in ); other passages also were seen as having Trinitarian overtones, such as the Pauline benediction of .

The Gospel of John starts with "the affirmation that in the beginning Jesus as Word "was with God and ...was God" and ends with Thomas's confession of faith to Jesus, "My Lord and my God!" (). There is no significant tendency among modern scholars to deny that these two verses identify Jesus with God. The same Gospel suggests the equality and unity of Father and Son. But it also suggests a hierarchy ("The Father is greater than I"),, a statement appealed to by Marcionism, Valentinianism, Arianism and others who denied the Trinity.

Summarizing the role of scripture in the formation of Trinitarian belief, Gregory Nazianzen argues in his Orations that the revelation was intentionally gradual:

The Old Testament proclaimed the Father openly, and the Son more obscurely. The New manifested the Son, and suggested the deity of the Spirit. Now the Spirit himself dwells among us, and supplies us with a clearer demonstration of himself. For it was not safe, when the Godhead of the Father was not yet acknowledged, plainly to proclaim the Son; nor when that of the Son was not yet received to burden us further.

References to the Trinity

A few verses directly reference the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:

  • : "As soon as Jesus Christ was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and landing on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.' " (also ; ; )
  • : "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (see Trinitarian formula).
  • : "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you."
  • : "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one." (This is the controversial Comma Johanneum, which did not appear in Greek texts before the sixteenth century.)
  • : "The angel answered and said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.' "
  • : "How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!"

Jesus as God

Many verses in Isaiah, John, the epistles, and Revelation imply support for the doctrine that Jesus Christ is God and the closely related concept of the Trinity. The Gospel of John in particular supports Jesus' divinity. This is a partial list of supporting Bible verses:

  • "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Cf. (born of a virgin), and
  • "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." together with "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." and "No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.The Bible says "God the One and Only" in NIV.
  • "For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it."
  • : "But he continued,'You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am [the one I claim to be], you will indeed die in your sins.'"
  • "I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!
  • : "I and the Father are one."
  • : "But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father."
  • : "Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him."—As the context shows, this implied the Tetragrammaton in refers to Jesus.
  • : "Thomas said to him, 'My Lord and my God!'" Due to the strict laws of Moses concerning blasphemy, Jesus and all of the apostles in the room were obligated to put Thomas to death for the blasphemy of calling a man God, unless that man truly was God. Jesus was similarly prohibited from receiving the worship of men as God, unless He was God. Thus the response of Jesus and others in the room indicates that all of them believed Jesus to be God, not only Thomas.
  • : "When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful." Under the Laws of Moses, no man could allow others to worship Him as God, which is blasphemy. Jesus allowed His followers to worship Him, indicating that Jesus believed Himself to be God.
  • : "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!"
  • : "He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God"
  • : "For by him [Jesus] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him."
  • : "He [Jesus] is before all things, and in him all things hold together."
  • : "For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form"
  • : "while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ."
  • : "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory."
  • : "But about the Son he [God] says, "Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom."
  • : "We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life."
  • : "When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades." This is seen as significant when viewed with : "This is what the says—Israel's King and Redeemer, the Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God."

The Bible also refers to Jesus as a man, which is in line with the Trinitarian concept that Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine which is expressed through the theological concept of kenosis.

God alone is the Savior and the Savior is Jesus

The Old Testament identifies the as the only savior, and the New Testament identifies Jesus Christ as God and Savior. These verses are consistent with Trinitarianism, as well as various nontrinitarian beliefs (binitarianism, modalism, the Latter-Day Saints' Godhead, Arianism, etc.)

  • : "'I, even I, am the , and apart from me there is no savior.'"
  • : "and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive."
  • : "But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared," in regard with:
  • : "'Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.'"
  • : "'the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.'"
  • : "while we wait for the blessed hope-the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ"
  • : "They said to the woman, "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man [Jesus] really is the Savior of the world.'"
  • : "whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior"


The Origin of the Formula

The basis for the doctrine of the Trinity is found in New Testament passages that associate the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Two such passages are Matthew's Great Commission: "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" and St 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" ().

In 325, the Council of Nicaea adopted a term for the relationship between the Son and the Father that from then on was seen as the hallmark of orthodoxy; it declared that the Son is "of the same substance" (ὁμοούσιος) as the Father. This was further developed into the formula "three persons, one substance." 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.

Saint Athanasius, who was 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 to use were claimed by the Arians to be capable of being interpreted in what the bishops considered to be a heretical sense. They therefore "commandeered the non-scriptural term homoousios ('of one substance') in order 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 (c 293 - 373) in the last decades of his life. He both defended and refined the Nicene formula. By the end of the 4th 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.

Comma Johanneum

One explicit Trinitarian passage, called the Comma Johanneum, which is often quoted from the King James Version of "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one." is believed to be a later addition. It is commonly found in Latin manuscripts, but is absent from the Greek manuscripts, except for a few late examples, where the passage appears to have been back-translated from the Latin. Erasmus, the compiler 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 and refused to include it until presented with an example containing it, which he rightly suspected was a gloss after the fact. Although the Latin Church Father, Saint Cyprian, is thought to have referred to the passage, it is now considered not to have been part of the original text, and is omitted from modern translations of the Bible, even from the revision of the Vulgate that is now the official Latin text of the Roman Catholic Church.

Formulation of the Doctrine

The most significant developments in articulating the doctrine of the Trinity took place in the 4th century, with a group of men known as the Theologians. Although the earliest Church Fathers had affirmed the teachings of the Apostles, their focus was on their pastoral duties to the Church under the persecution of the Roman Empire. Thus the early Fathers were largely unable to compose doctrinal treatises and theological expositions. With the relaxing of the persecution of the church during the rise of Constantine, the stage was set for ecumenical dialogue.

Trinitarians believe that the resultant councils and creeds did not discover or create doctrine, but rather, responding to serious heresies such as Arianism, articulated in the creeds the truths that the orthodox church had believed since the time of the apostles.

The Ante-Nicene Fathers, although very likely foreign to the specifics of Trinitarian theology because they were not defined until the 4th century, nevertheless affirmed Christ's deity and referenced "Father, Son and Holy Spirit." Trinitarians view these as elements of the codified doctrine.

The Trinitarian view has been affirmed as an article of faith by the Nicene (325/381) and Athanasian creeds (circa 500), which attempted to standardize belief in the face of disagreements on the subject. These creeds were formulated and ratified by the Church of the third and fourth centuries in reaction to heterodox theologies concerning the Trinity and/or Christ. The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, revised in 381 by the second of these councils, is professed by the Eastern Orthodox Church and, with one addition (Filioque clause), the Roman Catholic Church, and has been retained in some form in the Anglican Communion and most Protestant denominations.

The Nicene Creed, which is a classic formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity, uses "homoousios" (Greek: of the same essence) of the relation of the Son's relationship with the Father. This word differs from that used by non-Trinitarians of the time, "homoiousios" (Greek: of similar essence), by a single Greek letter, "one iota," a fact proverbially used to speak of deep divisions, especially in theology, expressed by seemingly small verbal differences.

One of the (probably three) Church councils that in 264–266 condemned Paul of Samosata for his Adoptionist theology also condemned the term "homoousios" in the sense he used it. Fourth-century Christians who objected to the Nicene trinity made copious use of this condemnation by a reputable council.

Moreover, the meanings of "ousia" and "hypostasis" overlapped at the time, so that the latter term for some meant essence and for others person. Athanasius of Alexandria (293–373) helped to clarify the terms.

Because Christianity converts cultures from within, the doctrinal formulas as they have developed bear the marks of the ages through which the church has passed. The rhetorical tools of Greek philosophy, especially of Neoplatonism, are evident in the language adopted to explain the church's rejection of Arianism and Adoptionism on one hand (teaching that Christ is inferior to the Father, or even that he was merely human), and Docetism and Sabellianism on the other hand (teaching that Christ was an illusion, or that he was identical to God the Father). Augustine of Hippo has been noted at the forefront of these formulations; and he contributed much to the speculative development of the doctrine of the Trinity as it is known today, in the West; the Cappadocian Fathers (Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory Nazianzus) are more prominent in the East. The imprint of Augustinianism is found, for example, in the western Athanasian Creed, which, although it bears the name and reproduces the views of the fourth century opponent of Arianism, was probably written much later.

These controversies were for most purposes settled at the Ecumenical councils, whose creeds affirm the doctrine of the Trinity.

According to the Athanasian Creed, each of these three divine persons is said to be eternal, each almighty, none greater or less than another, each God, and yet together being but one God, So are we forbidden by the Catholic religion to say; There are three Gods or three Lords.—Athanasian Creed, line 20.

Modalists attempted to resolve the mystery of the Trinity by holding that the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are modes, aspects or roles, of God. This anti-Trinitarian view contends that the three "persons" are not distinct persons, but titles which describe how humanity has interacted with or experienced God. In the role of the Father, God is the provider and creator of all. In the mode of the Son, man experiences God in the flesh, as a human, fully man and fully God. God manifests himself as the Holy Spirit by his actions on Earth and within the lives of Christians. This view is known as Sabellianism, and was rejected as heresy by the Ecumenical Councils although it is still prevalent today among those denominations known as "Oneness" and "Apostolic" Pentecostal Christians, the largest of which is the United Pentecostal Church International (see below, under "Nontrinitarianism"). Trinitarianism, on the other hand, insists that the Father, Son and Spirit simultaneously exist as three persons in one essence, each fully the same God.

The doctrine developed into its present form precisely through this kind of confrontation with alternatives; and the process of refinement continues in the same way. Even now, ecumenical dialogue between Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Roman Catholic, the Assyrian Church of the East, Anglican and Trinitarian Protestants, seeks an expression of Trinitarian and Christological doctrine which will overcome the extremely subtle differences that have largely contributed to dividing them into separate communities. The doctrine of the Trinity is therefore symbolic, somewhat paradoxically, of both division and unity.

Trinitarian Theology

Baptism as the beginning lesson

Baptism itself is generally conferred with the Trinitarian formula, "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (). Trinitarians identify this name with the Christian faith into which baptism is an initiation, as seen for example in the statement of Basil the Great (330–379): "We are bound to be baptized in the terms we have received, and to profess faith in the terms in which we have been baptized." "This is the Faith of our baptism," the First Council of Constantinople also says (382), "that teaches us to believe in the Name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. According to this Faith there is one Godhead, Power, and Being of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." may be taken to indicate that baptism was associated with this Trinitarian formula from the earliest decades of the Church's existence.

Some groups, such as Oneness Pentecostals, demur from the Trinitarian view on baptism. For them, the fact that Acts does not mention the formula outweighs all other considerations, and is a liturgical guide for their own practice. For this reason, they often focus on the baptisms in Acts, citing many authoritative theological works. For example, Kittel is cited where he is speaking of the phrase "in the name" (Greek: εἰς τὸ ὄνομα) as used in the baptisms recorded in Acts:

The distinctive feature of Christian baptism is that it is administered in Christ (εἰς Χριστόν), or in the name of Christ (εἰς τὸ ὄνομα Χριστοῦ). (Gerhard Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 1:539.)
The formula (εἰς τὸ ὄνομα) seems rather to have been a tech. term in Hellenistic commerce ("to the account"). In both cases the use of the phrase is understandable, since the account bears the name of the one who owns it, and in baptism the name of Christ is pronounced, invoked and confessed by the one who baptises or the one baptised or both. (Kittel, 1:540.)

Those who place great emphasis on the baptisms in Acts often likewise question the authenticity of in its present form. A. Ploughman, apparently following F. C. Conybeare, has questioned the authenticity of , but the majority of scholars of New Testament textual criticism accept the authenticity of the passage, since there are no variant manuscripts regarding the formula, and the extant form of the passage is attested in the Didache and other patristic works of the first and second centuries: Ignatius, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Cyprian, and Gregory Thaumaturgus. The Acts of the Apostles only mentions believers being baptized "in the name of Jesus Christ" and "in the name of the Lord Jesus" (). There are no biblical references to baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit outside of , nor references, biblical or patristic, to baptism in the name of (the Lord) Jesus (Christ) outside the Acts of the Apostles.

Commenting on , Gerhard Kittel states:

This threefold relation [of Father, Son and Spirit] soon found fixed expression in the triadic formulae in 2 C. 13:13, and in . The form is first found in the baptismal formula in ; Did., 7. 1 and 3....[I]t is self-evident that Father, Son and Spirit are here linked in an indissoluble threefold relationship.

In the synoptic Gospels the baptism of Jesus himself is often interpreted as a manifestation of all three persons of the Trinity: "And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" ().

One God

God is one, and the Godhead a single being: The Hebrew Scriptures lift this one article of faith above others, and surround it with stern warnings against departure from this central issue of faith, and of faithfulness to the covenant God had made with them. "Hear, O Israel: The our God is one " (the Shema), "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" and, "Thus saith the the King of Israel and his redeemer the of hosts: I am the first and I am the last; and beside me there is no God" (). Any formulation of an article of faith which does not insist that God is solitary, that divides worship between God and any other, or that imagines God coming into existence rather than being God eternally, is not capable of directing people toward the knowledge of God, according to the Trinitarian understanding of the Old Testament. The same insistence is found in the New Testament: "Why do you call me good? Jesus answered. No one is good—except God alone" and, as other so-called gods are merely mythological, "there is no God but one" ().

In the Trinitarian view, the Father and Christ share the one essence, substance or being. The central and crucial affirmation of Christian faith is that there is one savior, God, and one salvation, manifest in Jesus Christ, to which there is access only because of the Holy Spirit. The God of the Old Testament is still the same as the God of the New. In Christianity, it is understood that statements about a solitary God are intended to distinguish the Hebraic understanding from the polytheistic view, which see divine power as shared by several beings, beings which can, and do, disagree and have conflicts with each other.

God in three persons

According to the Trinity doctrine, God exists as three persons, or in the Greek hypostases, but is one being. God has but a single divine nature. ChalcedoniansRoman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Anglicans and Protestants—hold that, in addition, the second person of the Trinity—God the Son, Jesus—assumed human nature, so that he has two natures (and hence two wills), and is really and fully both true God and true human. In the Oriental Orthodox theology, the Chalcedonian formulation is rejected in favor of the position that the union of the two natures, though unconfused, births a third nature: redeemed humanity, the new creation.

The members of the Trinity are said to be co-equal and co-eternal, one in essence, nature, power, action, and will. As stated in the Athanasian Creed, the Father is uncreated, the Son is uncreated, and the Holy Spirit is uncreated, and all three are eternal with no beginning. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that, in the sense of the Latin verb procedere, but not in that of the Greek verb ἐκπορεύεσθαι, the Spirit "proceeds" from the Father and the Son (see Filioque).

It has been stated that because three persons exist in God as one unity, "The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" are not three different names for different parts of God but one name for God, because the Father can not be divided from the Son or the Holy Spirit from the Son. God has always loved, and there has always existed perfectly harmonious communion between the three persons of the Trinity. One consequence of this teaching is that God could not have created man in order to have someone to talk to or to love: God "already" enjoyed personal communion; being perfect, he did not create man because of any lack or inadequacy he had. Another consequence, according to Rev. Fr. Thomas Hopko, an Eastern Orthodox theologian, is that if God were not a Trinity, he could not have loved prior to creating other beings on whom to bestow his love. Thus we find God saying in , "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." For Trinitarians, emphasis in Genesis 1:26 is on the plurality in the Deity, and in 1:27 on the unity of the divine Essence. A possible interpretation of Genesis 1:26 is that God's relationships in the Trinity are mirrored in man by the ideal relationship between husband and wife, two persons becoming one flesh, as described in Eve's creation later in the next chapter. Some Trinitarian Christians support their position with the Comma Johanneum described above, even though it is widely regarded as inauthentic.

Mutually indwelling

A useful explanation of the relationship of the distinct divine persons is called "perichoresis," from Greek going around, envelopment (written with a long O, omega—some mistakenly associate it with the Greek word for dance, which however is spelled with a short O, omicron). This concept refers for its basis to , where Jesus is instructing the disciples concerning the meaning of his departure. His going to the Father, he says, is for their sake; so that he might come to them when the "other comforter" is given to them. At that time, he says, his disciples will dwell in him, as he dwells in the Father, and the Father dwells in him, and the Father will dwell in them. This is so, according to the theory of perichoresis, because the persons of the Trinity "reciprocally contain one another, so that one permanently envelopes and is permanently enveloped by, the other whom he yet envelopes." (Hilary of Poitiers, Concerning the Trinity 3:1).

This co-indwelling may also be helpful in illustrating the Trinitarian conception of salvation. The first doctrinal benefit is that it effectively excludes the idea that God has parts. Trinitarians affirm that God is a simple, not an aggregate, being. The second doctrinal benefit is that it harmonizes well with the doctrine that the Christian's union with the Son in his humanity brings him into union with one who contains in himself, in St. Paul's words, "all the fullness of deity" and not a part. (See also: Theosis). Perichoresis provides an intuitive figure of what this might mean. The Son, the eternal Word, is from all eternity the dwelling place of God; he is, himself, the "Father's house," just as the Son dwells in the Father and the Spirit; so that, when the Spirit is "given," then it happens as Jesus said, "I will not leave you as orphans; for I will come to you" ()

Some forms of human union are considered to be not identical but analogous to the Trinitarian concept, as found for example in Jesus' words about marriage: "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh" (). According to the words of Jesus, married persons are in some sense no longer two, but joined into one. Therefore, Orthodox theologians also see the marriage relationship as an image, or "icon" of the Trinity, relationships of communion in which, in the words of St. Paul, participants are "members one of another." As with marriage, the unity of the church with Christ is similarly considered in some sense analogous to the unity of the Trinity, following the prayer of Jesus to the Father, for the church, that "they may be one, even as we are one."

Eternal generation and procession

Trinitarianism affirms that the Son is "begotten" (or "generated") of the Father and that the Spirit "proceeds" from the Father, but the Father is "neither begotten nor proceeds." The argument over whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, or from the Father and the Son, was one of the catalysts of the Great Schism, in this case concerning the Western addition of the Filioque clause to the Nicene Creed.

This language is often considered difficult because, if used regarding humans or other created things, it would necessarily imply time and change; when used here, no beginning, change in being, or process within time is intended and is in fact excluded. The Son is generated ("born" or "begotten"), and the Spirit proceeds, eternally. Augustine of Hippo explains, "Thy years are one day, and Thy day is not daily, but today; because Thy today yields not to tomorrow, for neither does it follow yesterday. Thy today is eternity; therefore Thou begat the Co-eternal, to whom Thou saidst, 'This day have I begotten Thee." {Psalm 2:7}

Son begotten, not created

Because the Son is begotten, not made, the substance of his persona is that of Yahweh, of deity. The creation is brought into being through the Son, but the Son himself is not part of it except through his incarnation.

The church fathers used a number of analogies to express this thought. St. Irenaeus of Lyons was the final major theologian of the second century. He writes "the Father is God, and the Son is God, for whatever is begotten of God is God."

Extending the analogy, it might be said, similarly, that whatever is generated (procreated) of humans is human. Thus, given that humanity is, in the words of the Bible, "created in the image and likeness of God," an analogy can be drawn between the Divine Essence and human nature, between the Divine Persons and human persons. However, given the fall, this analogy is far from perfect, even though, like the Divine Persons, human persons are characterized by being "loci of relationship." For Trinitarian Christians, this analogy is particularly important with regard to the Church, which St. Paul calls "the body of Christ" and whose members are, because they are "members of Christ," also "members one of another."

However, any attempt to explain the mystery to some extent must break down, and has limited usefulness, being designed, not so much to fully explain the Trinity, but to point to the experience of communion with the Triune God within the Church as the Body of Christ. The difference between those who believe in the Trinity and those who do not, is not an issue of understanding the mystery. Rather, the difference is primarily one of belief concerning the personal identity of Christ. It is a difference in conception of the salvation connected with Christ that drives all reactions, either favorable or unfavorable, to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. As it is, the doctrine of the Trinity is directly tied up with Christology.

Economic and Ontological Trinity

  • Economic Trinity: This refers to the acts of the triune God with respect to the creation, history, salvation, the formation of the Church, the daily lives of believers, etc. and describes how the Trinity operates within history in terms of the roles or functions performed by each of the Persons of the Trinity—God's relationship with creation.
  • Ontological (or essential or immanent) Trinity: This speaks of the interior life of the Trinity (note John 1:1)—the reciprocal relationships of Father, Son and Spirit to each other without reference to God's relationship with creation.

Or more simply—the ontological Trinity (who God is) and the economic Trinity (what God does). Most Christians believe the economic reflects and reveals the ontological. Catholic theologian Karl Rahner went so far as to say "The 'economic' Trinity is the 'immanent' Trinity, and vice versa.

The ancient Nicene theologians argued that everything the Trinity does is done by Father, Son, and Spirit working together with one will. The three persons of the Trinity always work inseparable, for their work is always the work of the one God. Because of this unity of will, the Trinity cannot involve the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. Eternal subordination can only exist if the Son's will is at least conceivably different from the Father's. But Nicene orthodoxy says it is not. The Son's will cannot be different from the Father's because it is the Father's. They have but one will as they have but one being. Otherwise they would not be one God. If there were relations of command and obedience between the Father and the Son, there would be no Trinity at all but rather three gods.

In explaining why the Bible speaks of the Son as being subordinate to the Father, the great theologian Athanasius argued that scripture gives a "double account" of the son of God – one of his temporal and voluntary subordination in the incarnation, and the other of his eternal divine status. For Athanasius, the Son is eternally one in being with the Father, temporally and voluntarily subordinate in his incarnate ministry. Such human traits, he argued, were not to be read back into the eternal Trinity.

Like Athanasius, the Cappadocian Fathers also insisted there was no economic inequality present within the Trinity. As Basil wrote: "We perceive the operation of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to be one and the same, in no respect showing differences or variation; from this identity of operation we necessarily infer the unity of nature.

Augustine also rejected the idea of an economic hierarchy within the Trinity. He claimed that the three persons of the Trinity "share the inseparable equality one substance present in divine unity. Because the three persons are one in their inner life, this means that for Augustine their works in the world are one. For this reason, it is an impossibility for Augustine to speak of the Father commanding and the Son obeying as if there could be a conflict of wills within the eternal Trinity.

John Calvin also spoke at length about the doctrine of the Trinity. Like Athanasius and Augustine before him, he concluded that Philippians 2:4-11 prescribed how scripture was to be read correctly. For him the Son's obedience is limited to the incarnation. It is indicative of his true humanity assumed for our salvation.

Much of this work is summed up in the Athanasian Creed. This creed stresses the unity of the Trinity and the equality of the persons. It ascribes equal divinity, majesty, and authority to all three persons. All three are said to be "almighty" and "Lord" (no subordination in authority; "none is before or after another" (no hierarchical ordering); and "none is greater, or less than another" (no subordination in being or nature). Thus, since the divine persons of the Trinity act with one will, there is no possibility of hierarchy-inequality in the Trinity.

Since the 1980s, some evangelical theologians have come to the conclusion that the members of the Trinity may be economically unequal while remaining ontologically equal. This theory was put forward by George W. Knight III in his 1977 book The New Testament Teaching on the Role Relationship of Men and Women, states that the Son of God is eternally subordinated in authority to God the Father. This conclusion was used as a means of supporting the main thesis of his book: that women are permanently subordinated in authority to their husbands in the home and to male leaders in the church, despite being ontologically equal. Subscribers to this theory insist that the Father has the role of giving commands and the Son has the role of obeying them.

Old Testament evidence

Old Testament theophanies

In the Old Testament, several theophanies are recorded in which "God appeared" to one or more human beings in a physical manifestation that could be seen and heard. Jews will reply that "God appearing" does not signify his being in human form since the Jewish bible states in Numbers 23:19 that "God is not a man that He should lie" and that "none is like Him."

  • —God appeared to Abraham
  • —God appeared to Isaac
  • —God appeared to Jacob
  • —God appeared to Moses
  • —God appeared to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob
  • —God appeared to Aaron
  • —God appeared to Moses and Joshua
  • —God appeared to Samuel
  • —God appeared to Solomon
  • —God appeared to David
  • —God appeared to Solomon

The Angel (Messenger) of the Lord

God identified as "the Father" in the Old Testament

  • (Moses' time)
  • (pre-exile)
  • (post-exile)

God identified as "the Son" in the Old Testament

God is not directly identified as "the Son" in the Old Testament. Israel (and, poetically Ephraim) are called God's first born son, representing an aspect of the Jewish nation's relationship with God. There are, however, what many Christians believe are foreshadowings of Jesus as God the Son.

Psalm 2 is widely considered a Messianic psalm (Jewish Messianic Interpretations of Psalm 2) prophetically describing the Lord's "Anointed One" (verse 2). It contains in verse 7 the divine decree: "You are my Son, today I have become your Father." Verse 12 contains the words "Kiss the Son." While in verse 7 the Hebrew word for son is used, in verse 12 a Chaldean word is used. Support for the translation of the Chaldean word as "Son" is found in its other appearances, such as Ezra 5:2 This psalm denotes a Father Son relationship between God and the Messiah, who as the Son would be the heir (verse 8). Isaiah 9, also considered a Messianic prophecy, describes the coming Messiah as "Mighty God" (verse 6). Psalm 110 describes the LORD (understood as God the Father) sharing his eternal glory with the psalmist's Lord (understood to be the Son, the Messiah).

In Daniel chapter 7 the prophet records his vision of "one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven" (Daniel 7:13 ), who "was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him." (v14 ) Christians believe worship is only properly given to God, and that in the light of other Bible passages this "son of man" can be identified as the second person of the Trinity. Parallels may be drawn between Daniel's vision and Jesus' words to the Jewish high priest that in the future those assembled would see "the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." (Matthew 26:64-65 ). Jesus was immediately accused of blasphemy, as at other times when he had identified his oneness with God Christians also believe that John saw the resurrected, gloried Jesus and described him as "One like the Son of Man" (Revelation 1:13 )

God the Spirit in the Old Testament

Deity of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament:

Words of the Holy Spirit called the words of God:

Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant distinctions

The Western (Roman Catholic) tradition is more prone to make positive statements concerning the relationship of persons in the Trinity. Explanations of the Trinity are not the same thing as the doctrine itself; nevertheless the Augustinian West is inclined to think in philosophical terms concerning the rationality of God's being, and is prone on this basis to be more open than the East to seek philosophical formulations which make the doctrine more intelligible.

Eastern Christianity, for its part, correlates ecclesiology and Trinitarian doctrine, and seeks to understand the doctrine of the Trinity via the experience of the Church, which it understands to be "an icon of the Trinity." Therefore, when St. Paul writes concerning Christians that all are "members one of another," Eastern Christians in turn understand this as also applying to the Divine Persons.

The principal disagreement between Western and Eastern Christianity on the Trinity has been the relationship of the Holy Spirit with the other two hypostases. The original credal formulation of the Council of Constantinople was that the Holy Spirit proceeds "from the Father." While this phrase is still used unaltered both in the Eastern Churches, including the Eastern Catholic Churches, and, when the Nicene Creed is recited in Greek, in the Latin Church, it became customary in the Latin-speaking Church, beginning with the provincial Third Council of Toledo in 589, to add "and the Son" (Latin Filioque). Although this insertion into the Creed was explicitly rejected by Pope Leo III, who equally explicitly approved the doctrine it expressed, it was finally used in a Papal Mass by Pope Benedict VIII in 1014, thus completing its spread throughout Western Christianity. The Eastern Orthodox Churches object to it on both ecclesiological and theological grounds.

Anglicans have made a commitment in their Lambeth Conference, to provide for the use of the creed without the Filioque clause in future revisions of their liturgies, in deference to the issues of Conciliar authority raised by the Orthodox.

Most Protestant groups that use the creed also include the Filioque clause. However, the issue is usually not controversial among them because their conception is often less exact than is discussed above (exceptions being the Presbyterian Westminster Confession 2:3, the London Baptist Confession 2:3, and the Lutheran Augsburg Confession 1:1–6, which specifically address those issues). The clause is often understood by Protestants to mean that the Spirit is sent from the Father, by the Son, a conception which is not controversial in either Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. A representative view of Protestant Trinitarian theology is more difficult to provide, given the diverse and decentralized nature of the various Protestant churches.

Naming the Persons

Some feminist theologians refer to the persons of the Holy Trinity with gender-neutral language, such as "Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer (or Sanctifier)." This is a recent formulation, which seeks to redefine the Trinity in terms of three roles in salvation or relationships with us, not eternal identities or relationships with each other. Since, however, each of the three divine persons participates in the acts of creation, redemption, and sustaining, traditionalist Christians reject this formulation as suggesting a new variety of Modalism. Some theologians prefer the alternate terminology of "Source, and Word, and Holy Spirit."

Responding to feminist concerns, orthodox theology has noted the following: a) the names "Father" and "Son" are clearly analogical, since all Trinitarians would agree that God is beyond all gender; b) that, in translating the Creed, for example, "born" and "begotten" are equally valid translations of the Greek word "gennao," which refers to the eternal generation of the Son by the Father: hence, one may refer to God "the Father who gives birth"; this is further supported by patristic writings which compare the "birth" of the Divine Word "before all ages" (i.e., eternally) from the Father with his birth in time from the Virgin Mary; c) Using "Son" to refer to the Second Divine Person is most proper only when referring to the Incarnate Word, Jesus, who is clearly male; d) in Semitic languages, such as Hebrew and Aramaic, the noun translated "spirit" is grammatically feminine. Images of God's Spirit in scripture are also often feminine, as with the Spirit "brooding" over the primordial chaos in Genesis 1, or grammatically feminine, such as a dove.

Logical incoherency

On the face of it, the doctrine of the Trinity seems to be logically incoherent as God is both one and three at the same time. It appears to imply that identity is not transitive—"for the Father is identical with God, the Son is identical with God, and the Father is not identical with the Son." Proponents of the doctrine agree, explaining that the nature of God is beyond human comprehension, and attempts to fit God within human ideas is itself an error.

Recently, there have been two philosophical attempts to defend the logical coherency of Trinity, one by Richard Swinburne and the other by Peter Geach et al. The formulation suggested by Swinburne is free from logical incoherency, but it is debatable whether this formulation is consistent with historical orthodoxy. Regarding the formulation suggested by Geach, not all philosophers would agree with its logical coherency. Swinburne has suggested that "the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be thought of as numerically distinct Gods." Geach suggested that "a coherent statement of the doctrine is possible on the assumption that identity is "always relative to a sortal term."

Some Messianic groups, the Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventists, and even some scholars within (but not necessarily representing) denominations such as Southern Baptist Convention view the Trinity as being comparable to the concept of a family, hence the familial terms of Father, Son, and the implied role of Mother for the Holy Spirit. The Hebrew word for "God," Elohim, which has an inherent plurality, has the function as a surname as in "Yahweh Elohim." The seeming contradiction of Elohim being "one" is solved by the fact that the Hebrew word for "one," "echad," can describe a compound unity, harmonious in direction and purpose; unlike "yachid" which means singularity.

Others reject this view, and present the Trinity from the inherent complexity and transcendental nature of God. In this view, God created the universe, including time itself; God is larger and more complex than the universe itself; and God cannot "fit" in any way humans can understand within the smaller, created universe. Only God alone is capable of existing in multiple places simultaneously.

Thus, God is seen as not actually having three persons at all but simply being too complex for humans to understand any other way. It is argued that the Trinity does not really reflect a "family" or three personalities of God, so much as our human inability to comprehend God's infinite nature. The Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is an over-simplified explanation of an infinite God geared to our limited human understanding.

Illustrating this alternative theology, God is seen like a person tending an aquarium which represents the entire universe. Too large to fit inside the aquarium, a man can slide his hand inside the aquarium. The fish will see a hand in one place in the water. The man can also put his face into the water, and the fish will see a face in an entirely different place. The fish will think the hand and the face are two entirely different beings, which look nothing like each other. The fish may also become dimly aware that outside the aquarium a larger being tends to their needs, spreading food in the water regularly. Thus intelligent fish would perceive three different beings from their perspective – even though in fact these three manifestations come from one, single being beyond their comprehension.

Similarly, if God chose to come to Earth and visit humanity in the body of a man named Jesus, God would essentially break off a piece of Himself (so to speak) and that piece would enter a human body. The main part of God would remain in "heaven" being God "the Father." The part of God that entered a man's body could be described as the Son, Jesus. The part of God that moves throughout the universe can be described as the Holy Spirit.

If God has compositional parts, they are either finite or infinite parts. If finite, then God is finite. If infinite, then there are multiple infinities. Each case becomes a denial of monotheism. By definition, therefore, the belief in compositional parts has been regarded as a heresy since the establishment of the Nicene Creed, and reaffirmed in Protestant Creeds such as the Westminster Confession of Faith and 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith which state "God has no parts. Louis Berkhof describes the doctrine of the Trinity requiring belief in a "simplex unity" and not a complex (or composite) being. "There is in the Divine Being but one indivisible essence" and "The whole undivided essence of God belongs equally to each of the three persons.

The Trinity in art

The Trinity is most commonly seen in Christian art with the Spirit represented by a dove, as specified in the Gospel accounts of the Baptism of Christ; it is nearly always shown with wings outspread. However depictions using three human figures appear occasionally in most periods of art.

The Father and the Son are usually differentiated by age, and later by dress, but this too is not always the case. The usual depiction of the Father as an older man with a white beard may derive from the biblical Ancient of Days, which is often cited in defense of this sometimes controversial representation. However, in Eastern Orthodoxy the Ancient of Days is understood to be God the Son, not God the Father. When the Father is depicted in art, he is sometimes shown with a halo shaped like an equilateral triangle, instead of a circle. The Son is often shown at the Father's right hand (). He may be represented by a symbol—typically the Lamb or a cross—or on a crucifix, so that the Father is the only human figure shown at full size. In early medieval art, the Father may be represented by a hand appearing from a cloud in a blessing gesture, for example in scenes of the Baptism of Christ. Later, in the West, the Throne of Mercy (or "Throne of Grace") became a common depiction. In this style, the Father (sometimes seated on a throne) is shown supporting either a crucifix or, later, a slumped crucified Son, similar to the Pieta (this type is distinguished in German as the Not Gottes) in his outstretched arms, whilst the Dove hovers above or in between them. This subject continued to be popular until the eighteenth century at least.

By the end of the fifteenth century, larger representations, other than the Throne of Mercy, became effectively standardised, showing an older figure in plain robes for the Father, Christ with his torso partly bare to display the wounds of his Passion, and the dove above or around them. In earlier representations both Father, especially, and Son often wear elaborate robes and crowns. Sometimes the Father alone wears a crown, or even a papal tiara.

Eastern Orthodox tradition

Direct representations of the Trinity are much rarer in Eastern Orthodox art of any period -reservations about depicting the Father remain fairly strong, as they were in the West until the high Middle Ages. The Second Council of Nicea in 787 confirmed that the depiction of Christ was allowed because he became man; the situation regarding the Father was less clear. The usual Orthodox representation of the Trinity was through the "Old Testament Trinity" of the three angels visiting Abraham - said in the text to be "the Lord" (Genesis:18.1-15). However post-Byzantine representations similar to those in the West are not uncommon in the Greek world. The subject long remained sensitive, and the Russian Orthodox Church at the Great Synod of Moscow in 1667 finally forbade depictions of the Father in human form. The canon is quoted in full here because it explains the Russian Orthodox theology on the subject:

Chapter 2, §44: It is most absurd and improper to depict in icons the Lord Sabaoth (that is to say, God the Father) with a grey beard and the Only-Begotten Son in His bosom with a dove between them, because no-one has seen the Father according to His Divinity, and the Father has no flesh, nor was the Son born in the flesh from the Father before the ages. And though David the prophet says, "From the womb before the morning star have I begotten Thee" (Ps.109:3), that birth was not fleshly, but unspeakable and incomprehensible. For Christ Himself says in the holy Gospel, "No man hath seen the Father, save the Son" (cf. ). And Isaiah the prophet says in his fortieth chapter: "To whom have ye likened the Lord? and with what likeness have ye made a similitude of Him? Has not the artificier of wood made an image, or the goldsmiths, having melted gold, gilt it over, and made it a similitude?"(). In like manner the Apostle Paul says in the Acts "Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold or silver or stone, graven by art of man's imagination." And John Damascene says: "But furthermore, who can make a similitude of the invisible, incorporeal, uncircumscribed and undepictable God? It is, then, uttermost insanity and impiety to give a form to the Godhead" (Orthodox Faith, 4:16). In like manner St. Gregory the Dialogist prohibits this. For this reason we should only form an understanding in the mind of Sabaoth, which is the Godhead, and of that birth before the ages of the Only-Begotten-Son from the Father, but we should never, in any wise depict these in icons, for this, indeed, is impossible. And the Holy Spirit is not in essence a dove, but in essence He is God, and "No man hath seen God," as John the Theologian and Evangelist bears witness and this is so even though, at the Jordan at Christ's holy Baptism the Holy Spirit appeared in the likeness of a dove. For this reason, it is fitting on this occasion only to depict the Holy Spirit in the likeness of a dove. But in any other place those who have intelligence will not depict the Holy Spirit in the likeness of a dove. For on Mount Tabor, He appeared as a cloud and, at another time, in other ways. Furthermore, Sabaoth is the name not only of the Father, but of the Holy Trinity. According to Dionysios the Areopagite, Lord Sabaoth, translated from the Jewish tongue, means "Lord of Hosts." This Lord of Hosts is the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And although Daniel the prophet says that he beheld the Ancient of Days sitting on a throne, this should not be understood to refer to the Father, but to the Son, Who at His second coming will judge every nation at the dreadful Judgment.

Scenes that depict the Trinity

Only a few of the standard scenes in Christian art normally included a representation of the Trinity. The accounts in the Gospels of the Baptism of Christ were considered to show all three persons as present with a separate role. Sometimes the other two persons are shown at the top of a crucifixion. The Coronation of the Virgin, a popular subject in the West, often included the whole Trinity. But many subjects, such as Christ in Majesty or the Last Judgement, which might be thought to require depiction of the deity in the most amplified form, only show Christ. There is a rare subject where the persons of the Trinity make the decision to incarnate Christ, or God sending out the Son. Even more rarely, the Angel of the Annunciation is shown being given the mission.

Less common types of depiction

The depiction of the Trinity as three identical persons is rare, because each Person of the Trinity is considered to have distinct attributes. Even rarer is the depiction of the Trinity as a single anthropoid fiugre with three faces, because the Trinity is defined as three persons in one Godhead, not one Person with three attributes (this would imply Modalism, which is defined as heresy in traditional Christian orthodoxy).

The Trinity may also be represented abstractly by symbols, such as the triangle (or three triangles joined together), trefoil or the triquetra—or a combination of these. Sometimes a halo in incorporated into these symbols. The use of such symbols are often found not only in painting but also in needlework on tapestries, vestments and antependia, in metalwork and in architectural details.


Different depictions

Four 15th century depictions of the Coronation of the Virgin show the main ways of depicting the persons of the Trinity.

Depictions using two different human figures and a dove

Other depictions

Ambivalence to Trinitarian doctrine

Some Protestant Christians, particularly some members of the restoration movement, are ambivalent about the doctrine of the Trinity. While not specifically rejecting Trinitarianism or presenting an alternative doctrine of the Godhead and God's relationship with humanity, they are neither dogmatic about the Trinity nor hold it as a test of true Christian faith. Some, like the Society of Friends (Quakers) and Christian Unitarians, may reject all doctrinal or creedal tests of true faith, though not necessarily rejecting Trinitarian language. Others, like some members of the restorationist Churches of Christ, in keeping with a distinctive understanding of "Scripture alone", say that since the doctrine of the Trinity is not clearly articulated in the Bible, it cannot be required for salvation. Still others may look to church tradition and say that there has always been a Christian tradition that faithfully followed Jesus without such a doctrine.

Non-orthodox Trinitarianism

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) identify the Trinity (or Godhead) as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, but with a different intention than the Nicene faith. They regard these three as individual members of a heavenly triumvirate, completely united with one another in purpose - each member of the Godhead being a distinct being of physical form (God the Father, Jesus Christ) or spiritual form (The Holy Ghost.)

The Trinity in Christian Science is found in the unity of God, the Christ, and the Holy Ghost or—"God the Father-Mother; Christ the spiritual idea of sonship; divine Science or the Holy Comforter." The same in essence, the Trinity indicates "the intelligent relation of God to man and the universe."


Some Christian traditions either reject the doctrine of the Trinity, or consider it unimportant. Persons and groups espousing this position generally do not refer to themselves as "Nontrinitarians." They can vary in both their reasons for rejecting traditional teaching on the Trinity, and in the way they describe God.

Nontrinitarian groups

Since Trinitarianism is central to so much of church doctrine, nontrinitarians were mostly groups that existed before the Nicene Creed was codified in 325 or are groups that developed after the Reformation, when many church doctrines came into question

In the early centuries of Christian history Adoptionists, Arians, Ebionites, some Gnostics, Marcionites, and others held nontrinitarian beliefs. The Nicene Creed raised the issue of the relationship between Jesus' divine and human natures. Monophysitism ("one nature") and monothelitism ("one will") were early attempts, considered heretical by trinitarians, to explain this relationship.

During more than a thousand years of Trinitarian orthodoxy, formal nontrinitarianism, i.e., a doctrine held by a church, group, or movement, was rare, but it did appear. For example, among the Cathars of the 13th century. The Protestant Reformation of the 1500s also brought tradition into question. At first, nontrinitarians were executed (such as Servetus), or forced to keep their beliefs secret (such as Isaac Newton). The eventual establishment of religious freedom, however, allowed nontrinitarians to more easily preach their beliefs, and the 19th century saw the establishment of several nontrinitarian groups in North America and elsewhere. These include Christadelphians, Jehovah's Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Unitarians. Some groups espousing Binitarianism such as the Living Church of God claim that Binitarianism was the majority view of those that professed Christ in the second century.

Twentieth-century nontrinitarian movements include Iglesia ni Cristo and the Unification Church. Nontrinitarian groups differ from one another in their views of Jesus Christ, depicting him variously as a divine being second only to God the Father (e.g., Jehovah's Witnesses), as Yahweh of the Old Testament in human form, as God (but not eternally God), as Son of God but inferior to the Father (versus co-equal), as a prophet, or simply as a holy man.

Oneness Pentecostals deny traditional Trinitarian doctrine, while affirming their belief that God took on flesh in the man Jesus Christ. Like Trinitarians, Oneness adherents believe that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. However, whereas Trinitarians believe that "God the Son" (a being whose existence is denied by Oneness believers), the eternal second person of the Trinity, became man, Oneness adherents hold that the Father (who is also the Holy Ghost in their theology) Himself – the one and only true God – became man. Oneness believers view "Father," "Son" and "Holy Spirit" as titles, reflecting different manifestations of the one true God in the universe. Oneness Pentecostals are regarded by all orthodox Christian groups as subscribing to the heresy of Modalism, teaching that God displayed himself in the Old Testament as Father, in the Gospels as the Son, and after the Ascension as the Holy Spirit, which is not the traditional orthodox doctrine of three distinct and eternal Persons in one divine essence. Rather, Oneness Pentecostalism teaches there is only one Person displaying himself in different ways.


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