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vol 8: Many in one
page 2: Trinity

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a personal journey to natural theology

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Lecture 2: Trinity


1 These lectures are the result of my difficult relationship with Christianity. I am throwing a bit of a tantrum and making public statements about the religion that nurtured me. But I'm not knocking the religion itself, only some of the points of view that have become attached to it through its long history.

2 What I am trying to do is a refining operation. The essence of Christianity is a jewel brilliant enough to light us away from the thermonuclear reef that seems to fill our whole horizon. The purpose of these lectures is to find and redescribe that jewel in contemporary language.

3 This jewel was identified by Jesus of Nazareth when his listeners demanded a simple statement of his message. The incident is recorded in the Gospels. I will give you Luke's version:

There was a lawyer who, to disconcert [Jesus], stood up and said to him, 'Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?' [Jesus] said to him, 'What is written in the Law? What do you read there?' He replied, 'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself'. 'You have answered right,' said Jesus 'do this and life is yours. (10:25-28)

4 The law they are referring to is the Book of Deuteronomy in the old testament of the Bible. Although we often attribute this commandment of love to Christianity, it is clearly much older. The words in the book of Deuteronomy were written down about 500 years before Christ, and undoubtedly represent a much older oral tradition.

5 The fact that love makes the world go round is truly an ancient discovery of the human species. It antedates relativity and quantum mechanics by at least three thousand years. We will encapsulate it in the ancient phrase 'God is love'.

6 The purpose of these lectures can be stated very succinctly. It is to prove the inverse statement, 'love is god'. If it is true that love is god and god is love, and we are all lovers, then we are all gods as well.

7 The notion that we are gods is the theme of this lecture. Our understanding of how we should treat one another in our earthly home then becomes an examination of how gods should treat one another.

8 There are two well known families of gods in our cultural heritage. One is the gods of Greek and Roman mythology. The other is the Trinity of traditional Christian teaching.

9 The gods of mythology are larger than life, but they are a very human lot, prone to extremes of behaviour and excesses of passion. Their story is very old and very long and complicated. As an example, you have probably heard of Zeus, the god of the sky and the weather. Zeus has both Indian and European roots.

10 He was an important god. In art he is a kingly bearded figure, at first robed and then naked. In about 450 bc Phidias made a gold and ivory colossus of Zeus enthroned at Olympia. This work was probably the most famous of all statues in antiquity.

11 Zeus is a protector and ruler, a force for the maintenance of customary laws, peace and hospitality. So Zeus becomes the god of the courtyard and the household as well as a the god of the atmosphere.

12 Zeus was a god, but he was very human. He was the father of the goddess Athene. I will let Robert Graves tell you how this fatherhood was accomplished:

... Athene's own priests tell the following story of her birth. Zeus lusted after Metis the Titaness, who turned into many shapes to escape him until she was caught at last and got with child. An oracle of Mother Earth then declared that this would be a girl-child and that, if Metis conceived again, she would bear a son who was fated to depose Zeus, just as Zeus had deposed Cronus and Cronus had deposed Uranus. Therefore, having coaxed Metis to a couch with honeyed words, Zeus suddenly opened his mouth and swallowed her, and that was the end of Metis, though he claimed afterwards that she gave him his counsel from inside his belly. In due process of time he was seized by a raging headache as he walked by the shores of lake Triton, so that his skull seemed about to burst, and he howled for rage until the whole firmament echoed. Up ran Hermes, who at once divined the cause of Zeus's discomfort. He persuaded Hephaestus, or some say Prometheus, to fetch his wedge and sledgehammer and make a breach in Zeus's skull, from which Athene sprang., fully armed, with a mighty shout.

The Greek Myths, I:9d [Penguin]

13 The ancient Greeks had many gods. The Old Testament had only one god. These two traditions, the Greek and the Hebrew met and mated to produce Christianity. The result of the mating produced a new God who was both one and many. Because the idea is so subtle, it took hundreds of years and many controversies to reach its final form.

14 The Christian doctrine of the Trinity asserts that God is one in nature but three in person, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each of these three persons has been assigned a role in the Christian story of human salvation. In particular, it was the Son who took on humanity and came to us as Jesus of Nazareth to explain to us God's plan for the world and to give us instructions on how best to fit in with that plan.

15 What did Jesus tell us? As far as we can see. the Jesus of the New Testament was a real man, or perhaps a character pieced together out of the exploits of a number of real people. If I try to take the New Testament at face value, Jesus comes across to me as Jewish reformer. He accuses the Jewish leaders of corruption. They had become too concerned with the law and too little concerned with love.

16 He didn't mince words:

Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs that look handsome on the outside but inside are full of dead men's bones and every kind of corruption. In the same way you appear to the people from the outside like good and honest men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Matthew 23:27-28

17 Jesus cut through the mass of corruption he saw around him by stressing once more the commandment of love, and giving a clear and practical exposition of what love really meant.

18 I think the most famous exposition of Christian love is the story Jesus told called the Parable of the Good Samaritan:

But the man [the lawyer who questioned Jesus at the beginning of this lecture] was anxious to justify himself and said to Jesus, 'And who is my neighbour?' Jesus replied, 'A man was once on his way from Jerusalem down to Jericho and fell into the hands of brigands; they took all he had, beat him and then made off, leaving him half dead. Now a priest happened to be travelling down the same road, but when he saw the man he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite who came to the place saw him, and passed by on the other side, But a Samaritan traveller [that is a person whom the Jews considered to be an alien and a heretic] who came upon him was moved with compassion when he saw him. He went up and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. He then lifted him on to his own mount, carried him to the inn and looked after him. Next day he took out two denarii and handed them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said 'and on my way back I will make good any extra expense you have.' Which of these three, do you think, proved himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the brigands' hands?' 'The one who took pity on him' he replied. Jesus said to him, 'Go, and do the same yourself'.

Luke 10:29-37


19 This is clear enough, but during the hybridisation of Greek and Hebrew thought the commandment of love ran into very deep theoretical problems which I will call the 'dilemma of love'. A proper historical study of this situation is beyond me. You will have to be content with a thumbnail sketch of what seems to me to have happened.

20 The Greek myths date back to the same period as the stories in the early parts of the Bible, 2000 to 1000 BC. The Hebrews at that time were nomadic farmers. The Greeks, on the other hand, had developed quite complex technology. The Royal Palace of Minos in Crete had a flush toilet and drainage in 2000 BC.

21 The Greek myths and the Old Testament both represent to me the first attempts of dawning human awareness to come to terms with a world seen through new eyes.

22 From myth, the Greeks moved toward more systematic knowledge in the fields we now call mathematics, philosophy, theology and science. One can see the gradual refinement of ideas beginning to settle on the mysterious relationship between motion and stillness. By the fifth century BC, a polarisation seems to have developed. Some claimed that nothing moved, and that motion existed in name only. Others claimed the opposite, that everything moved and stillness existed in name only.

23 Parmenides of Elea argued that reality did not move. We have large fragments of a didactic poem in which he describes his views. The poem begins with an allegory describing his chariot journey through the gate leading from night to daylight. In the daylight he is welcomed by a goddess. He records her words in the remainder of the poem,

24 There are only three ways to proceed in philosophy, she says. That is we can assume that the reality to be studied either is, or is not, or that it both is and is not. She assumes that only what is and cannot not be can be known. This excludes any knowledge of what is not, and of things that both are and are not.

25 From this she deduces the properties of what is. It must be ungenerated and imperishable, indivisible, self-identical, unique, motionless, perfect and in perfect equilibrium, like a solid sphere. Parmenides is thus led by rational argument to disregard the evidence of the senses.

26 A more balanced view was written down about 500 BC by Heraclitus. He saw the universe as a ceaseless conflict of opposites regulated by an unchanging law. We can know this unchanging law and use it as a guide to action. This view is close to that of modern science, which seeks to find the regularities within the ceaseless motion of the visible universe.

27 Heraclitus also seems to have been the first among the Greeks to write down the discovery that the enquiring mind will never get to the end of its quest. Every new thing that we discover opens up fresh vistas and with them a world of new questions. This vision of creation at work and the problem that it raises remains with us. We need to find a rational explanation of it if we are to be at home in the world.

28 The Greeks discovered the problem of stillness and change and stated it very clearly but I do not think they ever answered it. Aristotle tried to explain the relationship with his theory of matter and form, but whatever its technical merit, Aristotle's answer did not seem right to the ancients. People seem to have found it easier to think that reality was immobile and that motion was not really real.

29 This view become enshrined in the work of Plato, and from Plato it entered into Christianity. Plato agrees that there can be no knowledge of what changes. Instead he supposes that what we know is the form that is shared by all the things to which we give the same name. This form is the essence of the thing for which we use the name. The form is invisible, and can only be grasped by thought and not by sense. It is absolutely and perfectly what it is, independent of all else, changeless and divine.

30 The result of the hypothesis is to emphasise the reality of the invisible world of forms that can be grasped by thought alone, while downgrading the senses and the moving world of experience. Plato does not seem to give the senses any part in the generation of knowledge.

31 The intellectual development of Christianity took a long time. It is good to remember this. Traditionally Jesus died in about 30 AD. His words were passed on orally. The first extant written record of his teaching, the Gospel of Matthew, seems to date from about 20 years after Jesus' death.

32 The full synthesis of Greek and Hebrew thought that we now call Christianity took another 1300 years to develop. Christian theory did not really stop growing until the new natural sciences began to turn the bulk of human intellectual effort elsewhere.

33 The tide began to turn in the Middle Ages when the Christian world was ready to re-examine the works of Aristotle. Aristotle's works had been largely forgotten by the Christians, but they had been preserved in the Arabic world. By about 1200 new Latin translations of the Greek works of Aristotle began to appear in Christian Europe.

34 Their value was recognised by Albert the Great, who was an experimental scientist and believed in the evidence of the senses as Aristotle had. Albert introduced Aristotle to his student Thomas Aquinas, and Thomas used Aristotelian ideas to create a new synthesis of Greek thought and the traditions of Christian theology.

35 The problem of motion remained, but the first step had been taken. Albert and Thomas both firmly believed that there could be no conflict between their faith and their human knowledge and experience. They reversed the trend, represented by Plato, of ignoring the senses, and so laid the foundation for the development of modern science.

36 When we think of motion, we are apt to thing of movements in space and time. For the ancients, however, the word encompasses all change. The power of logical thought lies in its ability to pare complex situations down to their essentials. When the earliest Greek philosophers talked about motion they used terms like love and hate to describe their theories. Aristotle simplified the problem by concentrating his efforts on physics, that is the study of motion in space and time.

37 These ideas were further refined in the middle ages. The next person to take a major step forward after Thomas Aquinas was Renee Descartes. He invented the mathematical structure we all coordinate geometry which allowed the geometry of motion to be discussed in terms of arithmetic.

38 A variation of Descartes' idea is used in street directories to make it easier to find particular streets. When you look up X street, you'll find it on map 10, reference B12. You turn to map 10, go along the top until you come to B and then go down until you find 10, and there is X street.

39 The B and the 10 are called coordinates. With the coordinate system, each square on the map can be given a name. The coordinate system that Descartes invented gives every point or place a name which comprises two numbers. The idea can be generalised to any number of dimensions. A point in ten dimensional space can be identified with ten numbers, and so on.

40 Descartes' coordinate geometry enabled Isaac Newton to make the first real breakthrough in the study of motion in the history of mankind. By studying motion and actually getting results, Newton showed for the first time that motion could be known. He broke the monopoly on knowledge that had until then been held by stillness.

41 I haven't time to go into the details of Newton's work. It is one of the foundations of our technological world. One of the most spectacular consequences of Newton's understanding of motion has been the development of rocketry and spacecraft and ultimately, our visits to the moon.

42 Newton was a physicist. He used mathematics as a tool to gain insight, but he didn't concern himself overmuch with mathematical niceties. In order to talk about motion he had to invent the branch of mathematics known as calculus. Calculus requires work with infinitely large and infinitely small numbers.

43 The infinite is not easy to deal with. Although Newton's methods yielded astounding results, the methods themselves were open to question and led to another field of mathematics called analysis. I do not want to try giving a mathematics course until we get a television station. I will content myself with telling you just one thing about analysis, and that is that it led ultimately to the development of Georg Cantor's transfinite numbers.

44 The transfinite numbers had a starring role in last year's theory of peace. They'll be back in force this year too, and I think I now know enough about them to produce an intelligible explanation of them. That will be later. I can only tell one story at a time.

45 My story is quite simple really. The people who put Christianity together could not understand motion. Remember that they were not just talking about motion from place to place. They were concerned with all change, birth and death, the changing seasons and astronomical cycles, growth and decay, the birth and death of love.

46 To them change was infinite and unintelligible and not therefore an adequate part of the foundations of human life. They were forced therefore to put all their faith in stillness, and their ideas of god and the universe were based on stillness.

47 From the time of Newton until the present, we have made enough mathematical and scientific headway to see that motion is just as real as stillness. In physics they are just different sides of the same coin. The structure of motion in the universe is explained by the structure of the stillness and the structure of the stillness is explained by the structure of the motion.

48 We are therefore in a position to rid Christianity of all those compromises that have resulted from the ancient obscurity of motion. The first we did last week. God is the fullness of being. When the fullness of being meant stillness, God became unmoving and essentially other from the universe of motion.

49 Now that we can see motion and stillness as two aspects of the same reality, we are in a position to accept the far simpler hypothesis that the universe itself is god. Since god is our heaven and our home, the universe becomes our heaven and our home.

50 We are also in a position to solve the dilemma of love. Love is the essence of Christianity. Just as their inability to understand motion forced the Christians to divide reality into God and the world, they also had to divide love into spiritual love and carnal love. Spiritual love, they decided, is in the image of god, pure and motionless. Carnal love is in the image of the world, fickle and unintelligible.

51 My problem with Christianity as I knew it was that I am a carnal lover and have never been able to feel the distinction between the flesh and the spirit. In the normal course of events, monastic life would have reconciled me to this division, but it did not. Eventually my attraction to people overcame all theoretical constraints placed on it.

52 I was forced into sin, that is into behaviour I could not understand, a sort of madness. For me the theory of peace has resolved this dilemma, although it has yet to heal all the wounds my ignorance caused me.

53 Love is one, both still and moving. There is no need to reject the emotional and passionate aspects of love in favour of the still and rational aspects. They are both of equal value and contain the same information. One creates and explains the other.

54 I once found myself saying 'I love you' to people and then suffering because the love did not last. In other words, my feelings changed. In that world, to fall out of love was to sin.

55 On the bottom line, I love you means I love you now. This may be the first moment of my love for you. I have never loved you before. It may be the last moment I love you. I will not love you anymore. It may be a moment in between, a part of a flow of love from the past through the present into the future. The transition, from not love to love and from love to not love is a most powerful and directly relevant human experience of the phenomenon we call change or motion, second only to birth and death.

56 God is love. God moves and love moves. There is therefore no reason why we should not think of ourselves as gods as well as lovers. We can reject the old Christian idea that the world and the flesh are enemies of God and the spirit.

57 Instead we can start to treat one another like gods, combining the finest elements of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity with the humanity exhibited by the Greek gods.

Originally broadcast on 2BOB Radio, Taree, NSW on 14 June 1988


Aquinas, Thomas, Summa Theologica (translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province), Tabor Publishing 1981 'Brother Thomas raised new problems in his teaching, invented a new method, used new systems of proof. To hear him teach a new doctrine, with new arguments, one could not doubt that God, by the irradiation of this new light and by the novelty of this inspiration, gave him the power to teach, by the spoken and written word, new opinions and new knowledge.' (William of Tocco, T's first biographer)  Amazon  back
Graves, Robert, The Greek Myths (volume 1), 1991 Jacket: 'A retelling of the stories of the Greek gods and heroes, embodying the conclusions of modern anthropology and archaeology. ... All the scattered elements of each myth have been reassembled into a harmonious narrative, and many variants are recorded which may help to determine its ritual or historical meaning.'  Amazon  back
Graves, Robert, The Greek Myths (volume 2), 1990 Jacket: 'A retelling of the stories of the Greek gods and heroes, embodying the conclusions of modern anthropology and archaeology. ... All the scattered elements of each myth have been reassembled into a harmonious narrative, and many variants are recorded which may help to determine its ritual or historical meaning.'  Amazon  back
Jones, Alexander (ed), The Jerusalem Bible, Darton Longman and Todd 1966 Editor's Foreword: '... The Bible ... is of its nature a written charter guaranteed (as Christians believe) by the Spirit of God, crystallised in antiquity, never to be changed ... . This present volume is the English equivalent of [La Bible de Jerusalem] ... an entirely faithful version of the ancient texts which, in doubntful points, preserves the text established and (for the most part) the interpretation adopted by the French scholars in the light of the most recent researches in the fields of history, archaeology and literary criticism.' (v-vi)  Amazon  back
Lonergan, Bernard J F, Verbum : Word and Idea in Aquinas (Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan volume 2) , University of Toronto Press 1997 Jacket: 'Verbum is a product of Lonergan's eleven years of study of the thought of Thomas Aquinas. The work is considered by many to be a breakthrough in the history of Lonergan's theology ... . Here he interprets aspects in the writing of Aquinas relevant to trinitarian theory and, as in most of Lonergan's work, one of the principal aims is to assist the reader in the search to understand the workings of the human mind.'  Amazon  back
McKeon, Richard, The Basic Works of Aristotle, Random 1941 Introduction: 'The influence of Aristotle, in the ... sense of initiating a tradition, has been continuous from his day to the present, for his philosophy contains the first statement, explicit or by opposition, of many of the technical distinctions, definitions, and convictions on which later science and philosophy have been based...' (xi)  Amazon  back
Newton, Isaac, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica , Harvard University Press 1972 One of the most important contributions to human knowledge. First translated from the Latin by Andrew Motte in 1729,   Amazon  back
Norwich, Julian of, Revelations of Divine Love, Penguin Books 1966 Jacket: '... an account of the sixteen 'shewings' (or visions) which appeared to Mother Julian (1342-1416), a recluse who lived at Norwich ... together with her meditations on these mystical experiences. ... In the pages of her mystical treatise the voice of the Middle Ages sounds with a clarity it is difficult to parallel among the writers of the period.'   Amazon  back
Popper, Karl Raimund, The Open Society and its Enemies (volume 1) : The Spell of Plato, Routledge 1966 Introduction: 'This book ...attempts to show that [our civilisation] has not yet fully recovered from the shock of its birth - the transition from tribal or 'closed society', with its submission to magical forces, to the 'open society' which sets free the critical powers of man. ... It further tries to examine the application of the critical and rational methods of science to the problems of the open society.'   Amazon  back


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