Christians believe in one God, yet the apparent contradictory nature of the Trinity is such that it has caused many to doubt whether Christianity is indeed monotheistic. This has consequently caused Christians to defend their monotheism in relation to the Trinity. In the two such defenses that are studied in this essay, we find that Christians have explained the nature of Trinity with varying degrees of effectiveness and success. Timothy the Patriarch defends the Trinity before the Caliph Madhi with few compelling arguments, and Gregory of Nyssa explains it in a more abstract and therefore more effective way. Each however defends the Trinity according to his understanding of it.
In The Apology of Timothy the Patriarch before the Caliph Madhi the way in which the Trinity ought to be understood is made clear: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not three separate gods but three persons. "We believe they are three…not in Godhead, but in persons, and that they are one not in persons but in Godhead" (63). Timothy says quite clearly that the Trinity is not three gods but "God, his Word and his Spirit" (65). Thus there is no confusion concerning what Timothy actually believes; according to his own word he does not worship more than one God, and condemns idolatry and polytheism. Yet the Caliph, as would any other critic of Trinity, must ask the question, "How is that these three persons…do not constitute three Gods?" (62). If Timothy sees the answer as a mystery he does not effectively communicate such an idea. Rather, Timothy tries to give a logical explanation of the Trinity to the Caliph, a practical, political and logical man. The leaps of logic that Timothy makes d...
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...fore Spirit. This relationship shows the primal, original nature of the Father, who exists "without a cause" (8), yet nevertheless cannot partake of Godhead without the Son and the Spirit.
It appears from exploring these two selections that the early Church had no standard of defense for the Trinity and that different understandings of it were common. Moreover, whether it constitutes one God or many gods is a question that is embedded within any conversation of the Trinity. That is, the tradition and teachings that surround the Trinity are inseparable from this question. One might expect that an individual's understanding of the Trinity would determine his or her ability to defend it. Yet, the defense is so tied up with the discussion itself that the ability to defend the Trinity seems almost a prerequisite of a personal spiritual understanding of it.
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