Simple Godly Truth: Three is NOT One

Trinitarianism is Tritheism in Disguise

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

 

It’s Gandalf… it’s a bird … it’s superman! It’s One! It’s Three! What???: Trinitarianism is Tritheism in Disguise.

“ ‘Trinitarianism, the faith of the Christian, is often Tritheism in disguise.’—(Dr. Vaughan.)’ “ [1]

However much the Trinitarian tries to convince himself and others and no matter the amount of complicated and convoluted sophistry that he pours into his theological acrobatics, he shall never in his sanity be able to superimpose the Father, the Son and the Dove as One Being. There will ever be three in the mind and this makes him a polytheist – a worshipper of three gods.

Many attempts to make sense of the strange idea of the Trinity that was never articulated by Jesus or his disciples often end up in Tritheism. For example, The Swiss philosopher and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg conceived the Trinity as three distinct principles: love, wisdom and energy. He believed that the Trinity came with the Incarnation and perceived an “eternal Trinity” as tritheistic and disclaimed both Protestants and Catholics as deviants. His belief gained foothold in such great personalities as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry James Senior and Andrew Jackson Davis.

“Swedenborg called for adherence to the Word but in a special sense. He transformed the Trinity from three persons to three principles: love, wisdom, and energy. Insisting that the Trinity appeared with the Incarnation, he called the concept of an eternal Trinity thinly disguised tritheism and compared its Protestant and Catholic devotees to “lascivious harlots and purveyors of death.” [2]

Numerous other analogies have been put forward by Trinitarian theologians and lay persons alike in their feeble attempts to make their belief in this odd doctrine appear sensible. A rather below the belt analogy that was presented by Christianity’s premiere philosopher William Lane Craig has it that God is similar to Cerberus the dog of hell. Other popular analogies include the egg (the shell, the white and the yoke), H20 in three forms and most interestingly a Christian missionary suggested to me once that the Trinity resembles the male testicles. Whatever deranged and absurd examples, comparisons and analogies that they can possibly conjure up, each of them inevitable result in polytheism.

“We will venture to say, that there has never yet been a definition of the Trinity which has not been either Tritheistic or Modalistic; and church Orthodoxy has always stood either on Tritheistic or Sabellian ground. In other words, the Orthodox Trinity of any age, when searched to the bottom, has proved to be Unitarianism after all, – Unitarianism in the Tritheistic or in the Sabellian disguise;

The analogies which are used to explain the Trinity are all either Sabellian or Tritheistic. Nature has been searched in all ages for these analogies, by which to make the Trinity plain; but none have ever been found which did not make the Trinity either Sabellianism or Tritheism. They are either three parts of the substance, or else three qualities or modes of the substance.

Thus we have instances in which the three are made the three parts of one being, or substance; as in man, – spirit, soul, body; thought, affection, will; head, heart, hand.

One Being with three distinct faculties is Tritheism: one Being acting in three directions is Sabellianism.” [3]

Joel Nathan scathingly labels these pretenders to monotheism shameless Tritheists.

“Again, נעשה אדם בצלמנו כדמותנו “And God said, let us make man in our Image.” This text is triumphantly quoted by the Tritheists, as establishing beyond doubt the plurality of Persons in the Godhead, that is, that the inferential signification of the pronouns us and our is paramount to and supersedes the express declaration, that “I am God alone, and there is none other besides me.” Now, sooner than verse upon polytheism, for disguise it as you will, Trinitarianism is nothing else, let us examine, would the use of the singular pronouns have been consistent with the dignity and power of the Deity. Let us make, is imperative and commanding, suited to the singleness of Majesty. “Let me make,” is supplicatory, and craves permission, suitable to inferiority, like “let this cup pass from me.” The language of a Potentate is the pronoun We, without even remotely contemplating that his council and ministers would claim or assume an equality of power and authority; nor do Doctor Doyle, and other Divines of the Catholic Church arrogate to be equal to the third person of the Trinity, when they write “We and the Holy Ghost.” And is it to be expected that sensible and thinking men, upon such slender pretentions, would found a reason to tri-split the “One God.” “ [4]

With great insight, Nathan’s astute comments above highlights a major flaw in the Trinitarian methodology that often goes under the radar: they give precedent to unclear verses over unequivocal ones. And any novice of hermeneutics and exegesis knows that the unclear cannot supersede the evidently clear. Explicit statements are to be taken as the benchmark against unclear statements. But it is an ancient chronic disease of Trinitarianism to search out the strange and the ambiguous and upon them build an even stranger and odd structure.

Many major modern Trinitarian theologians may well be Tritheists without even realising it.

“In contrast to this strong emphasis on the unity of God as a single subject by both Barth and Rahner, another school of thought has become increasingly prominent over the last few decades. This “social trinitarianism” seems to lay great stress on distinguishing the three Persons, almost to the point where it is suspected of tritheism. Here we may group (among others) Leonard Hodgson, Jurgen Moltmann, John Zizioulas, Robert Jenson, and, among philosophical theologians, Cornelius Plantinga and Richard Swinburne.” [5]

Indeed, this popular “social trinitarianism” is no longer simply “suspected tritheism”, but it is undoubtedly Tritheism in the guise of monotheism.

“The three persons of the Godhead are considered as three separate “God,” or are spoken of as “three” more than they are spoken of as “one.” They are said to be united in one substance, so they are technically “one God.” “Social Trinitarianism,” especially popular today, emphasizes the fellowship and interaction of each of the three divine persons to the point that critics say monotheism is compromised. Says Gunton:

One danger of the concept of communion – and especially of a “social” analogy of the trinity – is of a form of tri-theism which appears to relate to three persons in such a way as to suggest that they have distinct wills… we may accept the principle, so influential in the West in particular, that the acts of the triune God in the world are undivided. But this principle, like so many others – including the homoousion – can be a source of confusion unless it is carefully qualified… The concepts of homousios and perichoresis [that each of the persons “envelops the other”], are vital devices to ensure that Trinitarian language does not lapse into tritheism.

Most Trinitarian Christians are actually practicing “Tri-theists.” They think of God, Christ and “the Holy Spirit” as separate beings, not as “one God.” This is undoubtedly due to the impossibility of holding both ideas in the mind simultaneously. Either God is “one” or He is “three.” To say He is truly both defies logic and common sense and cannot be practically grasped or applies.” [6]

In the above testimony by three scholars in their massive volume on the Trinity, they ably show that hiding behind a human-contrived semblance of monotheism lies a gossamer-like strands upon strands of sticky web of theological gymnastics that feebly attempt to pass an innately polytheistic system as a monotheistic doctrine. Try as they may, none has ever been able to produce a convincing formula that can create in the mind of a sane individual an image of a singular God that is simultaneously three. If the Trinitarian is honest to himself, then he shall confess that whenever he tries to imagine the Trinity, three distinct images (perhaps an old wizened sage, a dove and a handsome Scandinavian with a halo atop his head) will be floating around in his head. These three entities can never become one singular being in any reasonable individual’s mind.

Do Muslims and Jews speak out of turn when they question the Trinity and ultimately deny it as polytheistic? Unitarian scholar par excellence Professor (Dr.) Sir Anthony Buzzard gives us a most down-to-earth, linguistically sound and easily digestible overview of the Trinity being in fact Tritheism:

“According to the ordinary rules of language, where we have a number of more than one, the prefix “mono-” no longer applies. For instance, if a man has two wives he is no longer monogamous but polygamous. On this basis, with many Jews and Muslims, we question the validity of speaking of Trinitarianism as monotheism, certainly not as monotheism in the Hebraic, Old Testament sense. It is hard for us to avoid the conclusion that three persons, each of whom is called God, amount to three Gods. We are aware that this is denied by Trinitarians; however, we have also noted that a number of theologians complain that ordinary believers do think of the Triune God tritheistically, i.e., as three Gods. It is difficult not to sympathize with Hans Kung who expresses “the genuine concern of many Christians and the justified frustration of Jews and Muslims in trying to find in such [Trinitarian] formulas the pure faith in one God.” “ [7]

And so according to Kung, Buzzard and a number of other theologians of various colours and creeds, Muslims, who are the true custodians of the purest form of monotheism* in the history of faith and religion, do have a legitimate claim to make against Trinitarianism. And Muslims as purveyors of monotheism most certainly have the right to view and dismiss the Trinity in all of its contradictory innovated formulations as nothing short of Tritheism.

 

 

Notes:

[1] Anon. (1875). Hints for Thoughtful Christians on the Pre-Existent Messiah; or, What Should be Believed Concerning God. London: James Nisbet & Co. p. 4

[2] Fox-Genovese, E. & Genovese (2005). The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders’ Worldview. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 599

[3] King, T. S., & Dewey, O. (1860). The New Discussion of the Trinity; Containing Notices of Professor Huntington’s Recent Defence of that Doctrine. Boston: Walker, Wise, And Company. pp. 61-62; See also Anon. (1860). Monthly Journal of the American Unitarian Association, Vol.1. Boston: American Unitarian Association. p. 112; Clarke, J. F. (1866). Orthodoxy: Its Truths and Erros. Boston: American Unitarian Association. pp. 495-496

[4] Nathan, J. (1834). The Doctrine of the Trinity, Not the Doctrine of the Bible: A Letter Addressed to the Author of the “Trinitarianism, Not Tritheism.” Dublin: William Shaw and Son. pp. 6-7

[5] Noble, T. A. (2013). Holy Trinity: Holy People: The Historic Doctrine of Christian Perfecting. Eugene Oregon: Cascade Books. p. 203

[6] Graeser, M. H., Lynn, J. A. & Schoenheit, J. W. (2010). One God & One Lord: Reconsidering the Cornerstone of the Christian Faith. Indiana: Spirit & Truth Fellowship International. pp. 545-546

[7] Buzzard, A. F. & Hunting, C. F. (1998). The Doctrine of the Trinity: Christianity’s Self-Inflicted Wound. Lanham, Maryland: International Scholars Publication. p. 96

* Islam: The Timeless Defender of Pure Monotheism

The primary sources of Islam, the Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w, are replete with explicit, unequivocal, unambiguous, vivid and conspicuous declarations of monotheism. That God is absolutely One without a partner or equal, without a son or a wife is the standing virtue of Islamic monotheistic truth that has stood unblemished through the passage of time. Despite the theological and doctrines conflicts that raged all around the world, Islam stood its ground firmly as the true guardian of pristine monotheistic religion. This historical reality is recognised Christian, Jewish and Muslim historians alike.

“One the one hand we have classical Islam trying to attain the most extreme and pure form of monotheism, even more so than any of the other two monotheistic religions.” (Lazarus-Yafeh, H. (1981). Some Religious Aspects of Islam: A Collection of Articles. The Netherlands: Brill. p. 19)

And the very conservative Christian scholar Norman Geisler recognises this historical truth by citing a couple of Muslim authors, Abdel Haleem Mahmud and Ajijola.

“This emphasis on the Oneness of God is such a fundamental aspect of Islam that one Muslim author writes, “In fact, Islam, like other religions before it in their original clarity and purity, is nothing other than the declaration of the Unity of God, and its message is a call to testify to this Unity. Another Muslim writer expresses a similar point: “The Unity of Allah is the distinguishing characteristic of Islam. This is the purest form of monotheism, i.e., the worship of Allah Who was neither begotten nor beget nor had any associates with Him in His Godhead. Islam teaches this in the most unequivocal terms.” (Geisler, N. L. & Abdul Saleeb (2002). Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books. p. 20; See also Gowens, M. L. (n.d.). Be Ready to Answer: Apologetics for the Common Man. Kentucky: Sovereign Grace Publications. p. 214)

We may furnish this article with numerous more references till the cows come home, but due to a judicious consideration of brevity, we shall suffice ourselves with one last relevant quotation from the orientalist G. R. Hawting.

“This concept of ikhlas appears to mean a pure form of monotheism, free from any taint of shirk. In Islam the first part (‘I testify that there is no god but God’) of the testimony of faith, the shahada, is often referred to as the kalimat al-ikhlas, and Sura 112 of the Koran, which is a short statement of pure monotheism, insisting that God is one, that He does not beget and is not begotten, and that He has no equal, is known as Surat al-Ikhlas.” (Hawting, G. R. (2004). The Idea of Idolatry and the Emergence of Islam: From Polemic to History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 61)

Thus, the claim that Muslims have playing on their lips that they are purest of the pure where monotheism is concerned isn’t a misplaced pretentious claim that they evoke out of thin air. It is a badge of honour that they have inherited from the noble Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. And they most certainly wear it proudly.

 

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