Friday, January 10, 2014

WHY I AM NOT A TRINITARIAN - Part I

Just about every one who knows me knows that I am an active Episcopalian, and many of those people also know that I am not a trinitarian. How can that be? How can anyone claim to be an Episcopalian, or even a Christian, yet deny what has come to be accepted as probably the very basic doctrine of true or orthodox Christianity? After all, for many centuries men and women who are vastly more intelligent and learned than I have embraced that doctrine; who am I to claim that they were wrong and I am right?

That last question shoots right to the heart of my personal struggle with this issue. Even before old age dramatically diminished my mental capacities, I would have been no match intellectually for most of the people I know at church --- especially, the clergy. I happen to belong to a spiritual community of very bright folks! And most of those people have no problem whatsoever with references to the Holy Trinity that are everywhere-present in our Episcopal liturgy. They don't have to fall silent when words of a hymn or prayer are clearly trinitarian; they don't, I'm sure, substitute "Holy Mary, beloved of God," for "Holy Mary, Mother of God," when they recite the Hail, Mary, as I do. By the way, why I even recite the rosary or invoke saints at all will be the subject of a later post.

But, I do have a problem with those things. I have a Big Problem because, simply, I do not believe that Jesus was God. Thus, every Sunday as we sing The Cherubic Hymn as part of the Mass, I either substitute "...life-creating God above" or "...God of all" for "...life-creating Trinity." 

I wrestled with this for a long, long time, and have had many deep discussions about it with many very learned people, but I simply am not a trinitarian, and that bothered me until one day a close friend, an awesomely intelligent woman who happens to be Jewish, said simply, "But I don't believe in the Trinity, either, Don. Nor does my rabbi. And I think we're fairly intelligent people, don't you?" She had me there; even though I had never met her rabbi, I knew that she would never have been part of a group of stupid people, or looked up to an ignoramus. So, she was right; while untold legions of scholars down through the ages have believed in and taught this idea, many millions of others have not. In fact, as I thought about it, I came to realize that most intellectuals down through history --- including today --- have not been trinitarians. And imagine my surprise to learn that two of the most brilliant thinkers of the last few centuries, Sir Isaac Newton and Thomas Jefferson --- both of whom were Anglicans --- also rejected the idea of the Trinity. So, with my non-belief, I'm in pretty heady company!

I believe that exploration of this idea will take at least three posts. This first one is simply an introduction; the next will be sort of an exploration of the history of the development of the idea and the dissents from it; and, maybe lastly, I'll give my specific reasons for rejecting the idea.

I think that the most basic, important, thing that must be laid out here in the beginning is, Just What Is The Trinity? What are we talking about when we refer to the Trinity? In other words, just what is it that I claim not to believe in?

I think that the clearest, most tiresomely exhaustive short description of the doctrine is in what we know as The Creed of St. Athanasius, or The Athanasian Creed. I'm not going to get into all the reasons why many modern scholars doubt that the Good Saint actually wrote this creed, but we know it as The Athanasian Creed, and I quote its 44 stanzas here:



WHOSOEVER WILL BE SAVED, 
before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. 
Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, 
without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. 

And the Catholic Faith is this: 
That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, 
neither confounding the Persons, 
nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, 
another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. 
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the 
Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal. 
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. 

The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate. 
The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, 
and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. 
The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal. 

And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal. 
As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, 
but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible. 

So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, 
and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three 
Almighties, but one Almighty. 

So the Father is God, the Son is God, 
and the Holy Ghost is God. 
And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. 
So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, 
and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords, but one Lord. 


For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge 
every Person by himself to be both God and Lord, 
So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion to say, 
There be three Gods, or three Lords. 
The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten. 
The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten. 
The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son, 
neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. 

So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; 
one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. 
And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other; 
none is greater, or less than another; But the whole three Persons 
are co-eternal together and co-equal. 
So that in all things, as is aforesaid, 
the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped. 
He therefore that will be saved is must think thus of the Trinity. 

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also 
believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. 
For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess, 
that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; 
God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; 
and Man of the substance of his Mother, born in the world; 
Perfect God and perfect Man, 
of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. 

Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead; and inferior to the 
Father, as touching his manhood; Who, although he be God and Man, 
yet he is not two, but one Christ; 
One, not by conversion of the Godhead 
into flesh but by taking of the Manhood into God; 
One altogether; not by confusion of Substance, 
but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul 
and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ; 
Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, 
rose again the third day from the dead. 
He ascended into heaven, he sitteth at the right hand of the Father, 
God Almighty, from whence he will come 
to judge the quick and the dead. 
At whose coming all men will rise again with their bodies 
and shall give account for their own works. 
And they that have done good shall go into life 
everlasting; and they that have done evil into everlasting fire. 

This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully, 
he cannot be saved.


WHEW!  Now do you see why I used the modifier "tiresomely" above? Anyway, what is spelled out in that creed is what I mean when I say that I am not a trinitarian. Officially, my Church --- and the other Catholic, Orthodox, and most Protestant Churches --- subscribe to that creed. 

I'm going to end this post here. Next, as I said above, I think we'll explore some of the ideas about the Trinity that have officially been labelled heretical. Actually, many of you are going to be surprised to learn that what you believe about the Trinity isn't orthodox at all; it's been branded heretical. 

And the last thing I'll say is this: I do not claim to understand the Nature of God. I believe that an amoeba can comprehend the life and thinking and writing of Stephen Hawking more fully than I can understand the Nature of God; if I can fully understand and describe God, then God is not God. So, maybe there is some Cosmic Divine Truth that is hidden beneath the words of various trinitarian formulas that I just do not grasp. Maybe I will at some later time, but I don't now.