I had no idea there was such a thing as Trinity Sunday until I was sitting in a little, local Lutheran church with my Mom last Sunday and the Pastor was preaching on it. I guess it’s a “thing,” just like Reformation Day, which I’d never heard of either until several years ago. Seriously, I know more about the Jewish religious calendar than the Christian version.
I checked this with my friend Tom earlier today, who had never heard of it either, and he’s been a Christian a lot longer than I have.
Anyway, part of the service included the congregation reciting the Athanasian Creed, which is Christianity’s formal codification of the doctrine of the Trinity, and this supposedly can be traced back to the 6th century CE.
However, the Pastor actually preached about the Nicene Creed, including presenting a pretty sanitized version of the Emperor Constantine.
Apparently, it all began with a 4th century CE presbyter and ascetic (and also a heretic according to Pastor) named Arius, who taught that God the Father was superior to the Son, and that Jesus was a created being like the angels. There’s a Biblical basis for this found in Proverbs 8, but I won’t get into the details.
Apparently, in the first few centuries of the (Gentile) Christian church, there was a lot of disagreement over the nature and character of God and the relationship of God the Father to both Jesus and the Holy Spirit. According to Wikipedia (I know, I know):
Arius is notable primarily because of his role in the Arian controversy, a great fourth-century theological conflict that led to the calling of the first ecumenical council of the Church. This controversy centered upon the nature of the Son of God, and his precise relationship to God the Father. Before the council of Nicaea, the Christian world knew several competing Christological ideas. Church authorities condemned some of these ideas but did not put forth a uniform formula. The Nicaean formula was a rapidly concluded solution to the general Christological debate.
Long story short, Constantine got all the Bishops together (I am severely oversimplifying all of this) to hammer out these issues, and they eventually concluded with the Trinity as we have the doctrine today.
I’m probably going to make a lot of people mad at me, but it seems that between Biblical canon and the present day Church, a bunch of religious authorities got together and decided the exact nature and character of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, the so-called Church Fathers got a few things wrong, in my humble opinion, such as supersessionism or replacement theology. I mean if they could reinvent the nature of Gentile faith in the Jewish Messiah King to eliminate the nation of Israel and the Jewish people, why should I believe they didn’t get the Trinity wrong, too?
See? I told you I’d make people mad. But it gets worse.
Why is the codification of the Trinity any different than the Jewish codification of halakah in Talmud? Okay, I probably just got myself in trouble on a number of levels, but please, give me enough rope to hang myself with. Christianity likes to think of itself as relatively tradition free compared to Judaism, but it seems to me that there are some similarities, at least in terms of process.
You have ancient Christian counsels that got together and defined all kinds of things about Christian belief and praxis, and you have ancient Jewish authorities that got together and (more or less) did the same thing about Jewish belief and praxis. Christians say they are “Bible-believing” and are led to interpret scripture by the Holy Spirit (also “scripture interprets scripture”), but really, what Christians believe and do today, especially relative to the Trinity doctrine, was decided centuries after the last book of the Bible was added, and more centuries after the Gentile Church divorced itself from the original Judaism.
In other words, it may well be that the Apostle Paul had no idea that Jesus was supposed to be the second person of the Godhead.
I know the Pastor of the church I take Mom to every Sunday would call me a heretic too, most Christians would, but how sure are we that we have a Triune God? Just asking.