The Trinity

Authored by: Thomas H. McCall

The Routledge Companion to Modern Christian Thought

Print publication date:  March  2013
Online publication date:  October  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415782173
eBook ISBN: 9780203387856
Adobe ISBN: 9781136677922


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The traditional Christian doctrine of the Trinity famously holds both that there is exactly one God, and that this one God somehow just is three “persons.” As the venerable Athanasian Creed puts it, “So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; and yet there are not three gods but one God.” The doctrine of the Trinity, understood in an ecumenical and creedal sense, rules out various alternatives as “heresies”: Sabellianism or modalism (the notion that the sole deity merely appears in various forms or “modes” but without any internal or necessary relational differentiation of “persons”), tritheism and all other versions of polytheism, “Arianism” and all doctrines that downgrade the divinity of one (or more) of the divine persons, as well as unitarianism, have been rejected forcefully. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all “consubstantial” or “homoousios”; they are, that is, each fully divine. They are also, however, really distinct. And yet they are, according to the classical doctrine, one God who is sovereign and free over creation.

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