Trinity

The Christian concept of God has already come under scrutiny in chapter 3 on Creation. A leading theme of that chapter was the basic distinction between the finite, contingent universe and the infinite, necessary, all-powerful, all-knowing mind and will that underlies, and accounts for, the very being, as well as the nature, of the whole evolving world. But Christianity has come to understand the one Creator God in a very different way from other monotheistic faiths. God is understood by Christians in all the mainstream churches — Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican and Protestant — as the Holy and Blessed Trinity, three Persons in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This doctrine shapes the classic Christian creeds, and together with the doctrine of the Incarnation, which we considered in the last chapter, constitutes the distinctiveness of Christianity, at least in terms of its belief system.

On any reckoning, the doctrine of the Trinity is difficult to understand. Many people, lay people and philosophers, regard it as a nonsense. How can the eternal Creator God possibly be both one and three? Theologians themselves have often tried to explain the doctrine away. It is not many years since the Regius Professors of Divinity at the universities of both Oxford and Cambridge were, to all intents and purposes, unitarians.1 But, more recently, there has been a remarkable revival of trinitarian theology, building on, but also challenging, the work of the mid-twentieth-century masters, Karl Barth, Karl Rahner and Bernard Lonergan. In Roman Catholic theology, we may cite the name of Walter Kasper, and in Protestant theology those of Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jurgen Moltmann, Robert Jenson and T. F. Torrance. Eastern Orthodox theology has always been resolutely trinitarian.

Anglo-Saxon philosophers of religion have also turned their attention to the analysis, clarification and, surprisingly often, defence of the doctrine of the Trinity. In this chapter we will survey and discuss a selection of their work. The main questions that have been addressed concern the reasons for affirming God's triunity, the intelligibility of the doctrine, and, above all, whether social trinitarianism, modelling God's identity on a society of three, inevitably entails tritheism, that is to say, belief in three Gods.

But, first, let us consider the prior question whether the triune nature of God is susceptible of rational and metaphysical enquiry.

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