I used to struggle with the doctrine of the Trinity because of a feeling of arbitrariness – why 3? If God has existed from eternity past in a plurality of persons, why not 30 persons in the Godhead, or 300? How can what is most basic and before all else be one thing and not another?
But recently it popped into my head: why 1, either? I had been thinking of a uni-personal God as the “normal” way for God to be, and a tri-personal God as an aberration from that. But why is 1 more “normal” than 3 in 1? Why is strict unity more basic than complex unity? Why should infinite things be like we expect them, when all we have ever known are finite things? Why should I have any notion of what God should be like to begin with?
It is comforting that God is different from what I ever could have guessed. If He were never difficult or surprising, He would not be God.
Gav, I think the intuition you have (i.e. the ‘uni-personal God’) is an understandable one, as it’s rooted in the Greek philosophical prioritizing of unity over plurality; plurality is a defect from the absolute perfection of unity. And of course, this is our intellectual grid as inheritors of the assumptions of Greek philosophy. (I think it was Alfred North Whitehead who said that all of European philosophy was simply a series of footnotes to Plato.)
Why should infinite things be like we expect them, when all we have ever known are finite things? Why should I have any notion of what God should be like to begin with?
This is why the Eastern Fathers stressed that God is beyond the category of being:
‘As regards what God is, it is impossible to say what he is in his essence, so it is better to discuss him by abstraction from all things. For he does not belong to the class of existing things, not because he does not exist, but because he transcends all existing things, even existence itself. For if all forms of knowing have to do with what exists, certainly that which transcends knowledge must certainly also transcend essence: and so conversely that which transcends essence will also transcend knowledge.’ — St John of Damascus
By the way, I think this is one reason why the accusation that the Christian East is enslaved to Greek philosophical categories doesn’t stick. The triadological and christological doctrines of the Christian East break down the dialectic of opposition inherent in Greek philosophy. The one and the three in God are distinct but not opposed to one another, and the human and the divine in Christ are distinct but not opposed to one another.
Fascinating Gav, and great point.