In an article by William C. Placher written a few months ago, he discusses the dominant analogies used to understand the Trinity and their strengths, weaknesses, and inherent limitations. In this post i want to merely describe each analogy, for both the reader and myself. In a subsequent post i will review Placher’s engagement with them. Let me make one disclaimer. I’m aware that there are different naunces and points of focus within each conception, but for brevity’s sake i will only deal with one. Without further ado . . .
The fundamental premise of all social analogies is that the “threeness” of God forces us to think about God as “community” of some sort in His own nature. This has been the dominant analogy in Trinitarian thought in the eastern church, although as Placher notes it has also appeared in the west at times, particularly in Richard of St. Victor in the 12th century, and Bonaventure in the 13th. A more recent espousal of this view is to be found in John Zizioulas. Zizioulas’ basic point is that one cannot exist except in relationship to other beings. For that reason, we must conceive of God as also existing in relationship to others. However, since God obviously existed prior to creation, for Him to exist means that there must be some type of eternal, inherent relationship going on within the being of God. Zizioulas expresses these convictions in the title of his sure to be a classic work Being as Communion. The obvious danger here is that of falling into Tritheism.
This analogy, originally conceived of by Augustine and later refined by Anselm and Aquinas, has dominated the western church mindset. This analogy flows from reflecting on the nature of the human mind. For Augstine, the human mind exists in knowing and loving. It is important to note, as Placher does, that for Augstine and Aquinas, knowing and loving aren’t merely activities the mind engages in, but rather the existence of the human mind is in the doing of these activities. Furthermore, these activities are mutally interconnected. One cannot love something without knowing it, and visa-versa. According to Augustine, this interdependence between the mind itself, and its fully integrated activities of knowing and loving mirror the relationships of the Triune God.
With these admittedly simplified understandings, we can tentatively begin to engage Placher’s article that analyzes them in a forthcoming post.