About two years ago I was sitting in the basement lounge of the Kay Chapel on the American University campus doing some nondescript task when a two adults walked in with a few students. They asked me if I would like to join them in their conversation group, me, being a recent transfer and eager to meet new people, was more than happy to join. As we were pulling up a coffee table and chairs the pastor, who was part of Chi Alpha, announced that nights conversation was going to be about the Holy Trinity. I, having taken theology courses at my previous university, was quite excited about this topic. The pastor pulled out a chart of the Holy Trinity describing what the Holy Trinity is. As we started to talk about the nature of the Holy Trinity the more people became confused. After all how can God be Father, Son and Holy Spirit without having the Father, Son and Holy Spirit be interconnected? The group, me excluded (I am a hard-core believer in the Holy Trinity), decided that the Holy Trinity was useless or beyond our human understanding. Their down fall? Attempting to put human understanding and logic to the Holy Trinity. The simple fact is that the Holy Trinity is beyond human understanding and that there is a mystery present in the Holy Trinity.
So, what is the Holy Trinity? According to the teachings of the Episcopal Church the Holy Trinity is one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit (BCP, 852). Contrary to some beliefs the Holy Trinity does NOT represent three different entities and is NOT the worshiping of multiple deities. Instead the Holy Trinity is one God with three elements present. I like to describe the Holy Trinity in this way: it is like H2O but when you heat H2O, freeze or cool the compound you will get steam, water or ice. In the end steam, water and ice are all of the compound: 2 hydrogen and 1 oxygen (H2O). In the process of heating, cooling and freezing there is no chemical change to H2O but the atoms expand or come closer together depending on the temperature. The Holy Trinity is the same thing with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit being different elements of the Holy Trinity.
Before we go any deeper into this topic the three elements of the Holy Trinity need to be defined. The Father is the nature of God the Father present in the Holy Trinity. The God the Father is the Father Almighty who created heaven and earth and who also created all things seen and unseen (BCP, 846). The Son is the nature of God the Son in the Holy Trinity. God the Son refers to Christ as being the only perfect image of God a manifests the nature of God to all humans. Lastly the Holy Spirit (Holy Ghost) is the third person of the trinity and is God at work in the world both past and present. Also the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son as one substance, majesty and glory with the Father and the Son. If you were in a lecture listening to this you might be raising your hand and screaming in your head, STOP! How can the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father and the Son and yet be with the Father and the Son? As was said above the Holy Spirit is God at work in the world. We also know that Christ is both divine and human and did God’s will on earth. If you have read the Gospels you will recall that when Christ was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove and the Holy Trinity was made manifest (Epiphany or Theophany).
Above is stain glass window diagram of the Holy Trinity. The diagram is in Latin so I will take a moment to provide an English translation. Deus=God, Pater=Father, Filius=Son, Spritus Sanctus=Holy Spirit, Est=is and Non Est=is not. The diagram tells us that God is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. On the other hand the diagram says that the Holy Spirit is not the Son and that it is not the Father. With the same token the Father is not the Holy Spirit or the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit and is not the Father. So the diagram makes it quite clear that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not interconnected but that they are elements of God with their own distinct being. Why can’t the Father, Son and Holy Spirit be interconnected but are distinctly yet are part of God is a mystery that only God knows the answer to. This is the mystical part of the Holy Trinity that we, as humans, are not capable of understanding. The Episcopal Church teaches that the early Church Fathers felt that this description of the Holy Trinity was an adequate description of God and all that He is. One could also look at the Holy Trinity and say that it is something made by God that only God understands.
A less complicated and mind numbing way of looking at the elements of God is looking at the essence of God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are attributes that make God what He is. This diagram suggests that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit all at once and that God can be Son at one moment, Father the next and Holy Spirit at another moment. The diagram also tells that God can be multiple elements at once: Son and Father, Son and Holy Spirit and Holy Spirit and Father. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the essence of God and maybe God shows us one element, multiple elements or all elements at once depending on what he thinks we need.
I believe the triquetra is the most efficient and effective way of describing the Holy Trinity. This representation of the Holy Trinity is found in many Episcopal/Anglican churches and is a symbolic representation of the Holy Trinity. The triquetra has the elements of God separated but suggests that the elements might some how come together in God. The knot in the middle represents the mystery of God and how the elements come together in God. The triquetra is, also, rooted in ancient Germanic and Celtic culture and art. In the Episcopal/Anglican churches it not only represents the Holy Trinity but also reminds us of the church’s Celtic and Germanic roots in England.
The Holy Trinity is one of those theological ideas where the less you think about it, better off you are in understanding God. There is a reason why we, humans, are not able to understand the workings of the Holy Trinity and the reason for that is that we are not meant to understand who God is or His workings among us. We should just put our faith in God and believe that He knows what is best for us and for our world.
And if you still want a visual representation of the Holy Trinity that doesn’t make your head go spinning, you can always look at this…