Augustine On The Invisibility of the Trinity

Augustine of Hippo PortraitOne key challenge that Augustine counters in Book II of his On Trinity is the question regarding the invisibility of Jesus in His essential nature. The antagonists argued that Jesus as the Son of God was always visible to the Father; therefore, this visibility also implies mortality and changeability. Two texts that Augustine quotes are:

  • Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1Ti 1:17 NKJ)
  • He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen. (1Ti 6:15-16 NKJ)

Augustine maintains that the invisibility of God means that the Triune God (Father-Son-Spirit) is invisible.

The antagonists argued that the Son was visible not only in flesh through His incarnation but even before that in Himself, and so visibly appeared to the fathers. And, since He was visible in His pre-incarnational existence, He was also mortal, they said. And, so they argued that 1 Timothy 1:17 speaks only of the invisibility of the Father. Further, in that same sense, the Holy Spirit is thought to also be mortal, because He also was visible once as dove and at another time as fire. Both the Son and the Spirit were visible to mortal eyes in various forms and various times, all implying, according to the antagonists, that both the Son and the Spirit were visible, mortal, and changeable; therefore, 1 Timothy 1:17 cannot apply to them but only to the Father.

Augustine begins by asking who the contenders think was walking in the Garden of Eden from whose face Adam hid. Was it the Father or the Son? Why not the Father, especially when the form of the narrative signifies no change of the Divine Person from chapter 1 to chapter 3. If we understand that the world was made by the Father through the Word, why not also accept that Adam saw the Father in a visible form. In fact, the visibility of the Father is not impossible in the same way as the audibility of Father was not impossible (as in John 12:28 and Matthew 17:5 when His voice is heard apart of the Spirit and the Son). Obviously, the voice was not of the Spirit; for, nowhere is Jesus called as the Son of the Holy Spirit. ‘But here, where it is written, “And the Lord God said to Adam,”‘ says Augustine ‘no reason can be given why the Trinity itself should not be understood.’

Augustine goes on to examine the theophanies to Abraham, Lot, Moses, the Israelites in wilderness, and to Daniel. Why not accept the three-person appearance to Abraham as the visitation of the Trinity, especially when none of them is shown to be lesser or greater to the other? Next, the two angels that appeared to Lot could be understood to be the Son and the Spirit, since They say that They were sent, and nowhere does it say that the Father is sent; however, He is the sender. The goal of Augustine is to show that visibility cannot be limited to only the Son and the Spirit, but even the Father can be seen as being visible at times. However, in His divine nature, the Triune God cannot be seen corporeally, “but we must believe that by means of the creature made subject to Him, not only the Son, or the Holy Spirit, but also the Father, may have given intimations of Himself to mortal senses by a corporeal form or likeness.”

See Augustine On Trinity, Book II.


If The Doctrine of Trinity Is Illogical, Then Everything Else is Illogical

If the doctrine of Trinity is illogical, then by the same logic, everything else is illogical.

Now, there are some who consider it to be an evidently foolish thing to believe in the reality of God as One and yet three persons. They say, 1+1+1=3 in every case, or else mathematics is absurd. But, let me show you by an ancient argument, once again, that mathematics can’t explain reality as it is. I will adapt only one argument from the many that a Greek philosopher of the 5th century BC, Zeno of Elea, used in order to defeat the then philosophers of mathematics, the Pythogoreans. The argument is commonly referred to as The Dichotomy.

A..A6..A5  A4     A3          A2                      A1                                              B

Suppose a runner is standing at point A and must reach point B in order to finish the race. The only way he can reach point B is by reaching the halfway point, say A1, between A and B, before reaching B. But then the only way he can reach halfway point A1 is by reaching the halfway point, say A2, between A and A1, and so on ad infinitum in order to finish the course. Thus in order for the runner to reach point B, he will have to traverse an infinite number of points in a finite time, which is impossible, because space becomes infinitely divisible and one has to keep on reaching half-ways before reaching any other point, infinitely; thus, reaching nowhere. Therefore, though empirically apparent, logically, motion is absurd.

Well, but if motion is absurd, then the entire universe, all phenomena, is absurd. If so, what is logical after all?

Conclusion: If logic can’t logically explain empirical realities such as continuity of identity in change, unity in plurality, and abstracts in concrete, how can it even begin to understand God who is Spirit? Reason is certainly not above faith. But, as far as the limits of reason exist, faith is certainly expected to not be irrational.

Excerpted: Time-Travel and Trinity

Excerpted from Omniscience

Time-fictions that imagine oneself traveling to the past or the future and being able to see oneself as another self only cash on the imagery of a realistic video playback. One can go to the past in the same way that one can go back to a time frame in a video and playback from there, they imagine; the exception in this reality playback: one can interfere. Similar is the imagination about the future. Of course, this involves the paradox of going back and killing oneself and yet being able to survive in the present. Some have even tried to suggest theories about several parallel universes and possibility worlds, which look interesting to the mind, but pose an interesting plurality. Of course, this could be one area where fiction allows for man to imagine a unity of being and yet a plurality of persons at the same time. For instance, in this imaginary time-trip, I find myself in 2010 at a University campus where I am presenting a paper. I (standing under a tree) see myself (near another building) on way to the Seminar hall inside. There is a duality here. I am standing under a tree and yet I am near another building on way to the Seminar hall. It doesn’t appear very problematic to those who think this could be possible in time travel; because, at least from one point in time (2016), I have gone missing. Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem impossible to the imagination to allow two different persons of the same one being in the same place with two different personalities at the same time. Also, in this view, the present is meaningless; for, 2010 is as really present to me (both me standing under the tree and myself on the way to the Seminar hall) in that framework as 2016 was real to me “earlier” (i.e. in my past). At the same time, due to the possibility of time-travel, I (2016) and myself (2010) are both at the same place and the same time, fictionally speaking. This temporal imaginative permission is incredulous. This violation of reason, perhaps, should forbid us trying to question how the eternal Godhead cannot be three persons in His eternal being.

Illustrating Trinity

There are at least three approaches to understanding Trinity.

The Rational Approach.
It seeks to find in the doctrine of Trinity a rational ground for the absolute nature of Truth. Truth implies absoluteness of knowledge in a subject-object relationship, which would be groundless if God were a monad. Therefore, Trinity proves to be a solid ground for the possibility of knowledge. Similarly, personality finds its best explanation in the personal nature of God, whose existence as three persons (I-YOU-HE Sufficiency) in one Godhead is the ground of personhood.

The Moral Approach. It seeks to find in the doctrine of Trinity a rational ground for the absolute nature of moral virtues, such as love, goodness, and joy. If God didn’t eternally exist in a subject-object relationship, then He would be amoral and morality would not be absolute. The doctrine of Trinity provides a rational ground for any discussion of morality with respect to its absolute nature.

The Empirical Approach. Some have suggested the analogy of the Sun (Sun-Sunlight-Sunheat). Nathan Wood used the now popular 1x1x1=1 analogy with instances from space and time (e.g. Length x Breadth x Height = Space; Past x Present x Future = Time). Still others used more naturalistic analogies; however, these could lead to tri-partiatism or Sabellianism (e.g. these are not acceptable: Water-Steam-Ice; Three parts of humans, etc).

Whatever the method be, there is no arguing the fact that the Trinity is a mystery and attempts to try to explain God could only land one in absurdity. We don’t still understand the mystery of the universe so much, nor of the human mind as it is; how much more difficult to understand the being of God? It would be more disastrous than attempting to explain miracles in order to prove the possibility of miracles. This would be impossible. While we use metaphors like Bread of Life and Rock for God, the metaphors have their limits. To accept the Mystery is a step of faith.

Feb 22, 2016
Excerpt from Benjamin B. Warfield, “The Biblical Doctrine of Trinity” (1915)

As the doctrine of the Trinity is indiscoverable by reason, so it is incapable of proof from reason. There are no analogies to it in Nature, not even in the spiritual nature of man, who is made in the image of God. In His trinitarian mode of being, God is unique; and, as there is nothing in the universe like Him in this respect, so there is nothing which can help us to comprehend Him. Many attempts have, nevertheless, been made to construct a rational proof of the Trinity of the Godhead. Among these there are two which are particularly attractive, and have therefore been put forward again and again by speculative thinkers through all the Christian ages. These are derived from the implications, in the one case, of self-consciousness; in the other, of love. Both self-consciousness and love, it is said, demand for their very existence an object over against which the self stands as subject. If we conceive of God as self-conscious and loving, therefore, we cannot help conceiving of Him as embracing in His unity some form of plurality. From this general position both arguments have been elaborated, however, by various thinkers in very varied forms.

The former of them, for example, is developed by a great seventeenth century theologian — Bartholomew Keckermann (1614) — as follows: God is self-conscious thought: and God’s thought must have a perfect object, existing eternally before it; this object to be perfect must be itself God; and as God is one, this object which is God must be the God that is one. It is essentially the same argument which is popularized in a famous paragraph (73) of Lessing’s “The Education of the Human Race.” Must not God have an absolutely perfect representation of Himself – that is, a representation in which everything that is in Him is found? And would everything that is in God be found in this representation if His necessary reality were not found in it? If everything, everything without exception, that is in God is to be found in this representation, it cannot, therefore, remain a mere empty image, but must be an actual duplication of God. It is obvious that arguments like this prove too much. If God’s representation of Himself, to be perfect, must possess the same kind of reality that He Himself possesses, it does not seem easy to deny that His representations of everything else must possess objective reality. And this would be as much as to say that the eternal objective co-existence of all that God can conceive is given in the very idea of God; and that is open pantheism. The logical flaw lies in including in the perfection of a representation qualities which are not proper to representations, however perfect. A perfect representation must, of course, have all the reality proper to a representation; but objective reality is so little proper to a representation that a representation acquiring it would cease to be a representation. This fatal flaw is not transcended, but only covered up, when the argument is compressed, as it is in most of its modern presentations, in effect to the mere assertion that the condition of self-consciousness is a real distinction between the thinking subject and the thought object, which, in God’s case, would be between the subject ego and the object ego. Why, however, we should deny to God the power of self-contemplation enjoyed by every finite spirit, save at the cost of the distinct hypostatizing of the contemplant and the contemplated self, it is hard to understand. Nor is it always clear that what we get is a distinct hypostatization rather than a distinct substantializing of the contemplant and contemplated ego: not two persons in the Godhead so much as two Gods. The discovery of the third hypostasis – the Holy Spirit -remains meanwhile, to all these attempts rationally to construct a Trinity in the Divine Being, a standing puzzle which finds only a very artificial solution.

The case is much the same with the argument derived from the nature of love. Our sympathies go out to that old Valentinian writer – possibly it was Valentinus himself – who reasoned – perhaps he was the first so to reason – that “God is all love,” “but love is not love unless there be an object of love.” And they go out more richly still to Augustine, when, seeking a basis, not for a theory of emanations, but for the doctrine of the Trinity, he analyzes this love which God is into the triple implication of “the lover,” “the loved” and “the love itself,” and sees in this trinary of love an analogue of the Triune God. It requires, however, only that the argument thus broadly suggested should be developed into its details for its artificiality to become apparent. Richard of St. Victor works it out as follows: It belongs to the nature of amor that it should turn to another as caritas. This other, in God’s case, cannot be the world; since such love of the world would be inordinate. It can only be a person; and a person who is God’s equal in eternity, power and wisdom. Since, however, there cannot be two Divine substances, these two Divine persons must form one and the same substance. The best love cannot, however, con-fine itself to these two persons; it must become condilectio by the desire that a third should be equally loved as they love one another. Thus love, when perfectly conceived, leads necessarily to the Trinity, and since God is all He can be, this Trinity must be real. Modern writers (Sartorius, Schoberlein, J. Muller, Liebner, most lately R. H. Griutzmacher) do not seem to have essentially improved upon such a statement as this. And after all is said, it does not appear clear that God’s own all-perfect Being could not supply a satisfying object of His all-perfect love. To say that in its very nature love is self-communicative, and therefore implies an object other than self, seems an abuse of figurative language.

Perhaps the ontological proof of the Trinity is nowhere more attractively put than by Jonathan Edwards. The peculiarity of his presentation of it lies in an attempt to add plausibility to it by a doctrine of the nature of spiritual ideas or ideas of spiritual things, such as thought, love, fear, in general. Ideas of such things, he urges, are just repetitions of them, so that he who has an idea of any act of love, fear, anger or any other act or motion of the mind, simply so far repeats the motion in question; and if the idea be perfect and complete, the original motion of the mind is absolutely reduplicated. Edwards presses this so far that he is ready to contend that if a man could have an absolutely perfect idea of all that was in his mind at any past moment, he would really, to all intents and purposes, be over again what he was at that moment. And if he could perfectly contemplate all that is in his mind at any given moment, as it is and at the same time that it is there in its first and direct existence, he would really be two at that time, he would be twice at once: “The idea he has of himself would be himself again.” This now is the case with the Divine Being. “God’s idea of Himself is absolutely perfect, and therefore is an express and perfect image of Him, exactly like Him in every respect. . . . But that which is the express, perfect image of God and in every respect like Him is God, to all intents and purposes, because there is nothing wanting: there is nothing in the Deity that renders it the Deity but what has something exactly answering to it in this image, which will therefore also render that the Deity.” The Second Person of the Trinity being thus attained, the argument advances. “The Godhead being thus begotten of God’s loving [having?] an idea of Himself and showing forth in a distinct Subsistence or Person in that idea, there proceeds a most pure act, and an infinitely holy and sacred energy arises between the Father and the Son in mutually loving and delighting in each other. . . The Deity becomes all act, the Divine essence itself flows out and is as it were breathed forth in love and joy. So that the Godhead therein stands forth in yet another manner of Subsistence, and there proceeds the Third Person in the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, viz., the Deity in act, for there is no other act but the act of the will.” The inconclusiveness of the reasoning lies on the surface. The mind does not consist in its states, and the repetition of its states would not, therefore, duplicate or triplicate it. If it did, we should have a plurality of Beings, not of Persons in one Being. Neither God’s perfect idea of Himself nor His perfect love of Himself reproduces Himself. He differs from His idea and His love of Himself precisely by that which distinguishes His Being from His acts. When it is said, then, that there is nothing in the Deity which renders it the Deity but what has something answering to it in its image of itself, it is enough to respond – except the Deity itself. What is wanting to the image to make it a second Deity is just objective reality.

Inconclusive as all such reasoning is, however, considered as rational demonstration of the reality of the Trinity, it is very far from possessing no value. It carries home to us in a very suggestive way the superiority of the Trinitarian conception of God to the conception of Him as an abstract monad, and thus brings important rational support to the doctrine of the Trinity, when once that doctrine has been given us by revelation. If it is not quite possible to say that we cannot conceive of God as eternal self-consciousness and eternal love, without conceiving Him as a Trinity, it does seem quite necessary to say that when we conceive Him as a Trinity, new fullness, richness, force are given to our conception of Him as a self-conscious, loving Being, and therefore we conceive Him more adequately than as a monad, and no one who has ever once conceived Him as a Trinity can ever again satisfy himself with a monadistic conception of God. Reason thus not only performs the important negative service to faith in the Trinity, of showing the self-consistency of the doctrine and its consistency with other known truth, but brings this positive rational support to it of discovering in it the only adequate conception of God as self-conscious spirit and living love. Difficult, therefore, as the idea of the Trinity in itself is, it does not come to us as an added burden upon our intelligence; it brings us rather the solution of the deepest and most persistent difficulties in our conception of God as infinite moral Being, and illuminates, enriches and elevates all our thought of God.


The word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible. However, the doctrine is clear since we find the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit as distinct persons (Matt.3:16,17), and each of the persons is called deity without denying the affirmation that God is One (John 1:1; Acts 5:3-4). The word “Trinity” was chosen by Church theologians to distinguish the Christian concept of God from the non-biblical ones.

I. The Doctrine of Trinity
1.  God is One.
2.  There are three persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
3.  These three don’t make three Gods; they are the three persons of the one Godhead.
4.  These three are not different manifestations of one person. They are three persons of the one Godhead.
5.  The three are co-equal, co-eternal, and co-substantial.
6. The oneness of the Triune God is not self-contradictory.

II. Natural Illustrations 1x1x1=1 (Nathan Wood)
1. Length x Breadth x Height = Space
2. Energy x Motion x Phenomenon = Matter
3. Future x Present x Past = Time
4. Space x Matter x Time = Universe
5. Nature x Person x Personality = Man

III. Philosophical Rationality of Trinity
1. Provides the rational-eternal basis for moral categories – If God was a not a Trinity, then categories such as love, joy, and goodness couldn’t be absolute.
2. Provides the rational-empirical basis for epistemic categories – if God was not a Trinity, then the knowledge as a subject-object relationship, as analytic-synthetic distinction, and Truth as such couldn’t find an original ground.
3. Provides the relational basis for interpersonal relationships. Therefore, Christ could pray regarding His disciples, “that they may be one, as We are” (Jn. 17:11).
4. Provides the metaphysical ground for a pluralist reality, and unity in diversity of the uni-verse.

IV. Scriptural Proofs
Deut. 6:4; Psa. 2:7; Heb. 1:13; Psa. 68:18; Isa. 6:1-3; Isa. 9:6; Gen. 1:2; 1Ti. 1:17; 1Co. 8:4-6; 1Pe. 1:2; 2Pe.1:1,2; Jn. 1:1,17; Phil. 2:11; Mt. 3:16-17; Acts 5:3-4; 1Jn.5:20

V. False Views of Trinity
1. Unitarianism – Father is creator, Son is creature, Spirit is impersonal.
2. Sabellianism – Modalism, i.e. God appeared historically in three separate modes, as Father in the Old Testament, as Son in the New Testament, and as Spirit now.
3. Tritheism – Father, Son, and H.S. are three distinct gods.