The effort to define the Trinity

A problem which long vexed the Church, and which even now has not been solved to the satisfaction of all who bear the Christian name, is that of the Trinity. As we hinted in an earlier chapter, through their deepest experiences the first Christians were confronted with the fact of Christ and of the Holy Spirit. How were Christ and the Holy Spirit related to God? The Christians were sure that God is one. Most of them were also convinced that in some unique way in Christ were both man and God and that the Holy Spirit was from God and is God. How could one hold to a belief in one God and make room for what had become known of Christ and of the Holy Spirit? The phases of the question which most engaged the attention of Christians were the relation of Christ to God and the work of Christ. This was as it should be, for Christianity had Christ as its central figure. Here, to the Christian, was the completely new and decisive fact in history. How could it be put adequately into the categories of existing human knowledge, thought, and speech? Inevitably Christians endeavoured to use terminology with which they were already familiar and sought analogies in existing philosophies and religious beliefs. Yet nothing which they found ready to their hands exactly met their needs. Christ was too novel to be fitted into what had been previously experienced without doing him violence. To Christians it was clear that he was fully man, an historical human individual, and that he was also God. How could these two convictions be reconciled?

As Christians wrestled with these problems differences arose which led to sharp controversies. The discussions and the controversies continued intermittently through the entire first five centuries and even beyond them. In their course the Catholic Church came officially to a common mind on most of the questions which had been raised and incorporated its conclusions in creeds and statements some of which to this day remain standard for the overwhelming majority of Christians. Yet the controversies led to fresh divisions, several of them of large proportions and some of which still survive.

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