Thursday, August 16, 2007

Trinity Talk

There has been some talk on UUism and The Trinity over at The recent Summer 2007 issue of The Herald, published by the British Unitarian Christian Association, has much on the Trinity in it, in part I think stemming from the recent news it also covers about the link-up between the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland ( and the UCA in the UK.

The Herald Editor The Rev. Andrew Brown has a good article called "On Understanding The Trinity" in which he quotes British Unitarian minister and scholar Sidney Spenser, whose comments from his 1955 essay "Unitarians and the Trinity" come pretty close to my own. I expect that hearing the Trinity is a hot topic in UU circles might be surprising for my blog visitors from both the UU and other religious circles.

Brown writes: "The Unitarian minister and scholar of first century Judaism Robert Travers Herford was right when he noted that: The duty of not to try and convert each other, but to try and understand each other, so as to be able to see how it is and why it is that they express their belief in different ways.' In this piece I try to do jus this concerning the question of Unitarian and/or Trinitarian conceptions of God. Following Herford's advice, another influential Unitarian minister and scholar, Sidney Spenser came to realize that the disputes over the Unity or Trinity of God were not pointless merely intellectual spats but born out of something very real and meaningful. Spenser observed that the doctrine of the Trinity was "formulated on the basis, not merely of speculation, but of experience.' Turning to those of us who consider ourselves to be Unitarian Christians he went on to say that 'the vital thing for us is not to hold the creed, but to enter into the experience out of which it developed.' Here is what Spenser wrote at the end of his 1955 essay...

"Like the early Christians, we are led to experience God in three different ways. To us, as to them, God is, first, the Source of being, everlasting, transcendent, yet close to our hearts, the universal Father in whom we live and move and have our being. To us, as to Jesus, God is Father in the sense that we share His Life and seek to do His Will. Jesus leads us to see God as the eternal Love who has made us for Himself. But secondly, we see that Love, not only as a besetting Presence above and beyond us; we see it coming to dwell among us, entering into human life, revealing itself in human souls. The Church has emphasized the revelation of God in the life and death of Jesus. And it is true that, because of the fullness of his love, Jesus is the great revealer--the Son in whom we see the Father's glory. Yet that sonship is not a thing apart. Wherever life is enriched and redeemed by the spirit of self-giving love, there we see God dwelling among us, revealing Himself to our eyes. We experience God as Father in His eternal Presence: we experience Him as Son in His revelation in human souls; and, finally, we experience Him as Spirit in His indwelling Life in our hearts---as the sustaining, quickening Energy underlying and inspiring all our efforts after goodness and truth and beauty.

The Trinity has its real value, not as a literal truth, not as a definition of the eternal nature of God, but as a symbol, suggesting the quality--manifold, yet unified--of our experience. The traditional doctrine serves today to darken counsel rather than to bring us light. It implies a clear-cut distinction, which cannot be sustained, between the different aspects of the divine. It is well that we should think of God as transcendant, as incarnate, as indwelling. But it is essential, if we are to lay hold of the vital meaning of these truths, to bring them closely together. It is God, the Father of our spirits, the Height and Depth of being, who is within us, whose glory shines through the life of Christ-like souls. It is the infinite Power and Love of God which is nearer to us than we are to ourselves, ever waiting to penetrate and posess us and to lift us into union with Himself. (Spenser, The Deep Things of God, London, 1955)

Brown goes on to talk about his contemporary interactions over the Trinity. He brings in Gershwin's "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off" song to talk about how Unitarian and Trinitarian Christians are like pajamas and pajahmas, how in the song's words "for we know we need each other" and can learn much by wearing each other's pajamas/pajahamas for a night or two."

For me The Trinity is a powerful way also of experiencing community in the light of God, where "two or three are gathered" there is a power that overturns Empires, and so it is part of the imperative to form communities, to plant them.


Jaume said...

Ron, if the Trinity is to be understood "not as literal truth, not as a definition of the eternal nature of God, but as a symbol", then it is not the Trinity. It is something else.

The Christian understanding of divine things as threefold is as old as the religion itself, as anyone who can read will find out by reading the Church Fathers. The whole discussion during those key three centuries was not "how many", but "how" did those three ideas/entities (Plato marching in here) fit together. Trinitarian thought is one possibility, that happened to be the successful middle ground between extreme unionists (Sabellians) and extreme separatists (Arians). But as a "symbol", probably all of them, if they all had been more tolerant of each other, would have accepted it.

Stephen said...

Andrew has a new blog too -

Ron said...

thanks steven and jaume.
Jaume, for me the phrase, and the concepts behind the phrase, and even the creedal statements that point toward--"The Trinity"--are just (just?) symbols for an experience of God that is real.

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