The Trinity in Ten Steps
From a Jewish Perspective
1. G-d is one. That is a clear and undisputed truth of Sacred Tradition. Indeed, He is perfectly one: He has no parts, He cannot be divided, and He never changes and, of course, He is the only one. But to act is to change. If He never acts, He never does anything. Clearly, we can’t say that about our Loving G-d. Indeed, if we understand His Unity in a way that excludes all action, we can’t even say that He created the world!
2. Jewish tradition, of course, affirms both that He is one, most perfectly one, and that He is a loving G-d who created the world and continues to participate in the direction of our lives. Judaism does not address the incompatibility of these two essential theological principles (though, in its own esoteric way, the mystical tradition does). It remains silent as before a sacred mystery. Judaism can leave it at that, but Catholicism can’t, because Catholicism has to explain the divinity of Jesus, and why Catholic faith is not ditheist. So theCatholic Church had to face the problem and formulate a concept of G-d’s Unity that allowed for Divine Acts of Love, especially the Incarnation. The doctrine of the Triune G-d arose to reconcile the truth of G-d’s Unity with the truth of His Love.
3. G-d is Love and desires only to bestow His Goodness upon us, for His Goodness is the only true good. To do that G-d had to do two basic things: make Himself known to us and inspire us, in our freedom, to open our hearts to Him.
4. Man cannot know G-d in His infinite simplicity, i.e., as He is infinite and has no parts. The human mind cannot comprehend or even recognize anything infinite and simple. So, by the power of the love that proceeds from Him, G-d generated His Word (also called His Name and the Logos), which is G-d as man can know Him. That Word is called His Son because it is generated, not made, because it is not a creature, but G-d Himself.
5. It appears that we have divided G-d into three: 1. G-d as the One who Loves, 2. the Love which proceeds from Him, and 3. The Divinity generated by the power of His Love in order to make Himself known to man. They are all G-d. How do we attribute them to the One G-d? Are they three parts of G-d? Three aspects? To what extent have we compromised G-d’s unity?
6. We cannot say that they are three parts of G-d, because G-d is one and cannot be divided. They are not three aspects of G-d because G-d is simple, everywhere the same. Besides, the difference between the three is not great enough to justify calling them parts or aspects.
The only thing that distinguishes G-d the Source from His Love is its procession, and the only thing that distinguishes His Word from G-d the Source and from His Love is its generation. All three are G-d. They share the same nature, Being Itself, and are not distinguished from each other in any other way, i.e., as physical things are, separated by having different bodies. Two sheep, for example, have the same sheep nature, but are counted as two because they have different bodies. But G-d has no body. There is no way that we can possibly grasp G-d the Source, His Love and His Word as three different things, because we can only divide things when they have a different nature or a different body. We have no way of grasping three things that have the same nature and same body as three. By the only standard we know for unity, one in nature and undistinguished by having separate bodies, they are one. So even though the doctrine of the Trinity introduces a certain plurality into our concept of G-d, it does not introduce any distinction in the Divine that violates our concept of unity. The Triune G-d is not three. He is One.
7. G-d is a person. Since the Divine Source, the Father, is G-d, He is a Divine Person. Since G-d’s Love (the Holy Spirit) is G-d, It (He), too, is a Divine Person. And since the Word, or Son, is G-d, He is also a Divine Person. Does Trinitarian theology requires us to say that we cannot speak of G-d as a Person, but only as three Persons? No, certainly not. G-d is a Person, and every one of the three Divine Persons is implicit in that Person. And that Divine Person, the One G-d, is implicit in every one of the three Divine Persons, for every on them is the same One G-d, “I Am,” Being Itself. In what sense, then, are they different? Only in a way that would not make for difference in nature: in proceeding or being generated while remaining the very same thing in every other respect.
8. We might ask: why say that G-d’s Love, the Holy Spirit, is a Divine Person? Isn’t love an act, and isn’t G-d the agent of that act, and aren’t an agent and his act two distinct, separable things? Why personify it?
In nature we distinguish between an agent and his act. If a man loves his son, the man is the agent, the act is his love. But—and this, it seems, is the teaching of St. John when he tells us that G-d is Love—the distinction between agent and act doesn’t apply to G-d. The reason is that G-d’s act is the act of His Entire Being. Jack loves his son with his heart, not with his fingernail. Jack loves his son today, but he might not love him tomorrow. G-d doesn’t have any parts or exist in time. We can’t divide Him in any of the ways that created things are divisible: in concept, in space or in time. So to say that G-d Loves is to say that G-d loves with His Whole Being. It is to identify His Entire Being with His Love, for there is nothing that is Him that is not also His Act of Love; His Being and His Act are one.
9. Now, of course, we cannot understand how that can be. We don’t even have words for it, and continue to say that G-d loves, as though to distinguish between G-d and His Act of Love. Whenever we ponder the Divine Mystery, we confront the inadequacy of language and the limits of our understanding, and can only think truthfully about G-d by recognizing that nothing we say about him applies to Him as it would to a creature. Rather, it applies to Him in a way that corresponds to His Unique Being, which is to say, in a way that we cannot grasp, since we have no grasp of that most exalted, infinite and simple Being. So when we say that G-d is One, we have to keep in mind that He is not one as a creature is one, but rather possesses a unity unique to the Divine, a unity which transcends, as He transcends nature, the distinction between unity and multiplicity in nature.
10. The Doctrine of the Trinity suggests the way that G-d’s unity transcends the natural distinction between unity and multiplicity, for it reveals that what could only exist as a plurality in nature (where father and son are two beings; where the lover and his love are distinct things) can exist in perfect unity in G-d by virtue of His Divine Nature. Without the Doctrine of the Trinity, we attribute to G-d the unity of natural things, and find, of course, that it doesn’t fit the G-d we know, the Loving G-d. The Trinity is a distinctively Christian idea, but it articulates the concept of G-d implicit in the Jewish as well as the Catholic experience of G-d, for Jews, like Catholics, know G-d as Father (Source), as Son (Shekhinah), and as the Holy Spirit (His Love).