The Trinity as a Plural Singular
NOTE: This was originally published 9/13/2011.
Now that I'll be teaching CCD, I'm going to need a test-run for all my lesson plans. Oh, blogosphere, prepare to don fur and become my guinea pigs!
My first lesson is to be on the Trinity. What is the Trinity? Does the Trinity have roots in Scripture? How come Jews only believe in ONE God, but we believe in three that add up to ONE God? I mean, 1+1+1=3, right? So what's that all about, anyway?
Ah... I love it! Delving right into the nitty-gritty!
Anyway, in starting with the Trinity, I realized I'd actually have to back it up and start with the importance of our Jewish roots. Since one of the main arguments against the dogma of the Trinity is that there is only "One" God and there can't be "3 Persons" we need to trace the language back all the way to the Old Testament, which was passed along (and subsequently written) in Hebrew.
So when we dig our ways back to the OT, we realize that there are two words to describe "oneness" in the Hebrew Bible. The first is "echad" which echoes a pluralistic singular. For example, when Moses comes down to explain the Commandments to the Jews, the people pledge loyalty to God's Word "in one (echad) voice." Obviously one person doesn't stand up and say "Yeah, Moses! We'll totally abide by the Commandments!" All the Jews, collectively, gave their consent to the Word of God. Thus, though singular, the word "echad" alludes to a plurality that creates the singular.
This word, "echad," is different from the Hebrew word "yachid." Yachid also references "oneness" but pretty much translates to "only." It refers to a literal, numeric singularity. For example, "yachid" is used in the story of Abraham and Isaac. When God asks that Abraham take his one and only (yachid) son by Sarah, Isaac, and offer him as a sacrifice, God was specific. Isaac was the only son Abraham had by Sarah, so there can be no confusion regarding the value of "one."
See the difference? Nowhere in the Bible does the Hebrew betray this plurality of God. Each time God is spoken of, the word "echad" is used. Why? Jews accepted God the Father as well as His Spirit who descended to create the world. Finally, they awaited the Son of God who would come to redeem them as the promised Messiah. So though they didn't believe in a doctrine of a triune God, all the pieces of the puzzle were present. As Catholics, we believe that Jesus, the Son of God, came and put those pieces together for us.
And put those pieces together He did!
In Matthew 28:19, Jesus instructs us with the words "In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." Naming each part of the Trinity under the singular of "name" and imparting the equality of their Divine Natures establishes this dogma for us. Epistles from Sts. Peter and Paul expound and support this.
So the Trinity does exist in the Old (and New!) Testament(s), but in order to understand that, we must first understand our Jewish heritage.
This also explains why our new translations (starting the first Sunday of Advent) refers to God with plural verbs. :)
Regarding tangible expressions of the Trinity, I'll be falling back on St. Patrick's "3 leaf clover" analogy as well as a personal "perfume" analogy gifted to me this summer. I was contemplating melting 3 different colored candles together into one giant candle, then asking the children to attempt separating the wax, but I realized that'd end up taking way too long and would probably get really messy really fast. Ah well...
I'll also be keeping John Godfrey Saxe's poem "The Blind Men and the Elephant" up my sleeve for when we get into the ability of 2 men to see the same God and come away with 2 VERY different visions of Him. I might even have them draw / color in their own elephants...
6/26/2014 09:15:09 am
If you are interested in some new ideas on the Trinity and religious pluralism, please check out my website at www.religiouspluralism.ca. It previews my book, which has not been published yet and is still a “work-in-progress.” Your constructive criticism would be very much appreciated.
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