Trinitas Hominis: doctrina imago dei demonstrato doctrina trinitas divinus

My first thoughts on this concept began when I was roughly 18 years old, and I think this primal form of the theory should be the entry place for its explanation. Only three years had passed since I submitted to Christ’s lordship, but in that time I had deeply embedded myself in the study of the Bible and theology. I was baptized in a Southern Baptist church; Trinity was a mysterious doctrine we believed, but not a central part of our worship as it is in many other churches, including the Episcopal Church in which I was recently confirmed. While it bothered me that the Trinity was not a central part of the worship I encountered, I just chalked that up to the incomprehensible mystery being too much for liturgical use and focused on the theology. I had already encountered basic trinitarian theology early on (being baptized in the Triune name will have that effect), but I was dissatisfied with the analogies used by many pastors to describe and/or explain the Trinity. The wisest of these always ended with a disclaimer that all analogies break down at some point, but I felt that there must be something more apt to explain what seemed such a central concept to our understanding of God.

The analogies used all focused on pointing to things in nature that could be viewed as three different things contained in one item. The more common ones I heard were the analogy of the egg, which has a shell, a yolk, and a white, yet is one (unsatisfactory because the shell and yolk are separated unless the egg is broken, and because this only gets to the idea of one as three without giving any functional concepts to work with), and the analogy of the stages of water, solid ice, liquid water, and gaseous steam (utterly ridiculous as the same amount of water cannot be all three at once, leaning towards modalism if anything, and again, no functional concepts). Then I came upon this verse in 1 Corinthians:

τὸ γὰρ πνεῦμα πάντα ἐραυνᾷ, καὶ τὰ βάθη τοῦ θεοῦ. τίς γὰρ οἶδεν ἀνθρώπων τὰ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου εἰ μὴ τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ ἀνθρώπου τὸ ἐν αὐτῷ; οὕτως καὶ τὰ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐδεὶς ἔγνωκεν εἰ μὴ τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ θεοῦ.

For the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For what man *knows the things of man* if not the spirit of the man within him? Just in that way, no one knows the things of God if not the Spirit of God.

*literally, “those of the man,” or “those things of the man”*

The NIV (which I used almost exclusively at the time) translates this as “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”

This rather popular translation keyed me into a distinction between thought (or more accurately, that which thinks) and spirit. It also brought to mind the verse in Hebrews:

Ζῶν γὰρ ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ ἐνεργὴς καὶ τομώτερος ὑπὲρ πᾶσαν μάχαιραν δίστομον καὶ διϊκνούμενος ἄχρι μερισμοῦ ψυχῆς καὶ πνεύματος, ἁρμῶν τε καὶ μυελῶν, καὶ κριτικὸς ἐνθυμήσεων καὶ ἐννοιῶν καρδίας

For the Word of God is living and energetic and edgier than any two-edged sword and piercing to dividing between *soul and spirit*, of joints and marrow, even judging the thoughts and intents of the heart.

This was what caught my attention when thinking of the distinction between thought and spirit, my thinking at the time being that “soul” could be thought of as the seat of intellect, what I would term mind. This line of thought was before I was trained in critical hermenutics, historical theology, and Koine Greek. After learning Greek and discovering that the phrase here uses the words “psyche” and “pneumatos,” I sought a meaning for these words that could make some sense of the context. In nearly a decade of study, both biblical and linguistic, I have come to this conclusion regarding this pairing in context: The author of Hebrews, likely a Jew born to affluent parents in the Hellenistic world and a scholar well-acquainted with the Greek language and (possibly) philosophy as evidenced by a deep knowledge and understanding of Jewish liturgical practices expressed in a beautifully poetic Greek, took a pair of words which were confusing even for someone who was obviously highly-intelligent and whose mother tongue was Greek and used that as the uttermost to which one might attempt a division. If anyone has evidence against this viewpoint, please share it with me.

After learning more about the cultural history of this author’s world, I learned that the heart was held to be the seat of intellect (needs citation), thus, “judging the thoughts and intents of the heart.” The skills I learned in hermeneutics then brought to my attention that even without finding a division between soul and spirit, here is a description of the human person which invokes three facets common to human existance, the spiritual, the physical, and the intellectual. Yet even before learning these skills, combining the verse in Hebrews with the parallel comparison in 1 Corinthians between the Spirit of God searching/knowing the depths/thoughts of God and the spirit of man knowing the “depths/thoughts” of the man, I discovered a possibility of understanding the human being in three parts (spiritual, physical, mental) in comparison if not in parallel with the Divine being in three parts (I will have to do a separate essay on the words ‘person,’ ‘being,’ ‘hypostasis,’ and any other words used and/or abused in the discussion on the Trinity throughout Christian history).

With each of the correspondences within this comparison, I will have to go into greater detail later, but for now I will give just a brief outline. This comparison begins with the most obvious, the Son of God corresponding with the body of a human, both physical manifestations of the entity in question. *After this, the comparison gets tricky, and I am tempted to proceed to the other two correspondences until only after we have gained a firm footing on this first, but I have already determined to wait until later to detail each further, and to this I will hold.* The second correspondence, which has only been determined after a great deal of discussion and theoretical work, is the Father corresponding with the mind of a human. The third, not by process of elimination alone but also by the mysterious natures and the questions raised by the two correspondants, is the Spirit of God corresponding with the spirit of a human.

While I will wait until later to delve into the intricacies of each correspondence, there are a few comments I feel I should make about the theory as a whole. First, if this theory is true, then this will give us a much better understanding of the nature of the divine Trinity as well as a better understanding of the human person, and our understanding of each can build on our understanding of the other. Second, even if this theory is true, it will still reach a limit after which comparisons between the divine Trinity and the human trinity break down, but this theory will reach its apex of usefulness long after the analogies of which I first wrote and for a very different reason: If we are made in the image of God, and there are several theories as to what that actually means, then perhaps we are made with or as our own “roadmap” to understanding the divine, something that a puddle of water cannot claim. Lastly, and perhaps the most useful for many, my most successful attempts at explaining this idea to others have generally involved this question:

When you speak to me, to what are you speaking? Are you just sending sound waves through the air and hoping they will hit my ears? Are you trying to relay information from your mind into mine using the (admittedly uncertain) medium of language traveling through the air? Are you trying to make a deeper connection with me using that information passed through language? Are all three correct? Then, again, to what are you speaking?

If we are communicating mind to mind, spirit to spirit, and body to body, then we must be each of these for each to communicate across the void between us. Of course, the gross materialist will say that mind and spirit are just psychological constructs of a neurological function; just so, the gross phenomenalist will say that body and spirit are illusory constructs used to interact with an external world (which may or may not actually be there). To both of these I would ask whether this theory is functionally useful, even if this theory is not ontologically accurate. But Logic runs on the fuel we feed it from our presuppostions, so it should come as no surprise that the materialist and the phenomenalist do not see this theory as ontologically true.


I have not decided where to go from here in my next post on the subject. I could take the high academic route and walk through the historical discussion of the Trinity, especially highlighting the vocabulary aforementioned (especially where I think we might have done better and where I think we must go from here); or, I could press forward into fleshing out my theory on the individual hypostases of the Trinity of Man and their correspondences within the Trinity of God. We shall see which mood strikes me when next I start writing on the subject.

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One comment on “Trinitas Hominis: doctrina imago dei demonstrato doctrina trinitas divinus

  1. […] may find this page useful reading if you feel you’re missing something while reading the […]

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