Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Lutheran Satire on St. Patrick and Analogies for the Trinity

I know it's a couple of days after St. Paddy's Day, but last night I came across a marvelously humorous video clip from The Lutheran Satire on St. Patrick's famous illustration of the foundational orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinity based on the shamrock:

I wish I had this video when, in years past, I taught theology at the local evangelical Bible College. Students, no matter how "biblical" they thought they were, just could never get a handle on either Nicene Trinitarianism or Chalcedonian Christology. To be sure, the students, if nothing else, were committed to the Deity of Christ. Nevertheless, the lip service they gave to his full and true humanity was inevitably compromised in a sort of Neo-Docetism. 

Likewise, they all confessed the Trinity—well, they were by and large nonconfessional, and always were impatient when I dragged up the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, but they claimed to believe in the Trinity nonetheless—but really had no clue as to what the doctrine historically meant. Most tended to lapse into either Modalism or Tritheism. The reasons for this are obvious: the being of God is sui generis, the all-important notion of perichoresis is easier to articulate than it is to comprehend, and contemporary Americans can't help but understand the technical theological term "person" in terms of modern Western notions of personhood. But such naive thinking can only lead to grave theological difficulties.

Over the years various analogies for the Trinity have been put forth from theologians great (St. Augustine, most famously) and small. Patrick's shamrock analogy is among his most famous ideas. But, like all such analogies, it falls short, as the video nicely points out. I always taught my students that all analogies are faulty, and it is better not to try to explain the doctrine. After all, orthodox Trinitarianism is not designed to explain God to his creatures. It is designed to set conceptual limits beyond which believers may not go in describing God in his inscripturated self-revelation.

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