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All for One-ness and One-ness for all!

321321 begins by associating God with three-ness.  "God is three Persons united in love" says the presentation.  And occasionally people have asked, "What about God's one-ness?"

Well the short answer is - it's right there in the explanation: "three Persons united in love." That phrase is just trying to unpack the word Trinity which is itself only the squashing together of "tri" and "unity".  Just from the word 'Trinity' it should be clear how the church has considered God's one-ness historically. God's one-ness is a unity of the Three.  It's not a unity apart from the Three or underneath the Three. But often we think like that.

It's always revealing when people say things like: "Trinity is great but we also need to focus on God's unity." This is literally the same as saying "The unity of the Three is great, but we also need to talk about the unity of God."  At that point we really need to ask, "What is this second kind of unity you want to talk about? And what is this God you want to talk about apart from discussion of the Three?"  Those are worrying questions to raise!

To answer them, people sometimes try to wheel in Gregory of Nazianzen for support. In doing so they make him say the precise opposite of what he meant.  Here's his famous quote:

No sooner do I conceive of the one than I am illumined by the splendour of the three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the one.

Wonderful theology. Yet in a heartbeat the thought can get turned into...

Once I've spent a decent amount of time thinking about the one God of monotheism, I then force myself to spend the same amount of time considering Father, Son and Spirit.  And once I've given equal airtime to the Three, I return to my philosophically defined monad.

But that couldn't be further from Gregory's meaning. The One simply is the profound interpenetration of the Three and the Three just are 'in' each other in unloseable, mutually-constituting, ontological oneness. Gregory is not saying that we ought not to think of one-ness and three-ness separately. He's saying we cannot do it.  The one and the three are strictly mutually-defining concepts.

Yet every time someone says "Let's not prioritise trinity, let's give equal time to the unity" they attempt this feat.  Whatever three-ness they're considering apart from the one-ness - it's not the true three-ness of God. Whatever one-ness they're considering apart from the three-ness - it's not the true one-ness of God.

So here's my offer. I will happily major on the one-ness of God for the rest of my life. I will rename the website - cool, still has a nice ring to it.  But I'll do it on one condition: can we please all agree that this oneness is the one-ness of Jesus with His Father?

You see, if we're talking about Christ, if we're talking about the gospel, if we're talking about salvation, then whatever one-ness we uphold must not destroy the concrete Person of Jesus. It must not mess with the gospel economy in which the Son lives and dies before the Father, is exalted and ministers before Him.  It must not dissolve our salvation in which the Son bears us before the Father. If Jesus, if the gospel, if salvation determines our God-talk then the one-ness we maintain must be a one-ness of distinct Persons mustn't it?  It must be a one-ness that includes difference and interplay and relationship mustn't it?

So if the one-ness we're talking about is the "one-ness" of Jesus with His Father then sign me up. I couldn't be more for "one-ness".  I'll talk about this one-ness until Jesus returns.  But some want to talk about another one-ness - a one-ness that would dissolve the Person of Jesus, His gospel, His salvation. A one-ness that would involve not merely looking away from 'the Three' in some abstract sense, but looking away from Jesus and His gospel in order to know God. To look to this other one-ness is to look away from the God of Jesus and we must never do that.

There can be only one kind of one-ness. And it's the one-ness of the Three.

14 thoughts on “All for One-ness and One-ness for all!

  1. Brian Midmore

    Is'nt there also a tendency to divide up other issues and to talk about them separately. E.g faith and works get divided in soteriology and evangelisim and social action in missiology when although they are distinct they are not separate. Also as you said before God's work and ours in mission. I think we would have a more united church if we could keep the unity of these things.

  2. Brian Midmore

    P.S. This tendency to analysis comes from the enlightenment. Its why we have German followed by woodwork followed by chemistry at school.

  3. Daniel

    So here's my problem, Glen - my family is a threeness united in love, but we are not a Trinity in the way that God is. I think that without the language of 'one substance' (which, I admit, makes little sense outside the Greek philosophical context - we need to find a new way to say it) you have something which the Fathers would have called Tritheism. I know that's not where you're going, but for me that is where the language points.

  4. Glen

    Brian, I'd tend to agree agree - though I'd say the mutually defining relations of the Trinity are not only quantitatively but qualitatively different to those other issues.

    Daniel, I'd say your family is a picture of the Trinity in the same kind of way that you are a picture of the Father. There are quantitative as well as qualitative differences! But, as a start, it's not the worst picture in the world.

    This post actually arose from a consideration of Nicea - specifically the fact that the homoousios is pronounced on the incarnate Son. He is "one being" with the Father. As TF Torrance says the homoousios upholds distinction as well as unity because a person cannot be "homo" with identically the same person. The ousia of God *includes* the Father/Son relationship - that seems like Nicene orthodoxy to me. Hence my pledge to talk *only* about oneness just so long as the oneness we speak of is the oneness of Jesus with His Father.

    What meaning do you want to give to "substance" that I miss when I say: "the Three are ‘in’ each other in unloseable, mutually-constituting, ontological oneness."?

  5. Daniel

    Glen, that's helpful, and understand that I'm not accusing you of heterodoxy in any way, just trying to think through language and its implications. I suppose my counter-question would be: what do you mean by 'ontological' in your summary statement? (I'm not that attached to 'substance' language - I think it served a good purpose way back when, but doesn't work with contemporary understandings of ontology, and isn't necessitated by Scripture - so it can be dropped. But it is that ontological one-ness that I'm wanting to safeguard - to say that God really is one. 'Love' in and of itself does not seem to me to be sufficient to do the job, but maybe I'm misunderstanding).

  6. Glen

    Ah ok, would it be better to say "three Persons lovingly united"? In this context, love for me means "perichoresis". In the back of my mind is Gunton's:

    ‘the ousia of God is constituted without remainder by what the persons are to and from each other in eternal perichoresis.’

    "Love" is not there to weaken the unity but to describe what kind of unity exists - a unity of concrete particulars who interlock. But when you say that it might sound like there are three individuals who happen to fit. That's why it's so revolutionary to say: "No their fitting *is* their very life. There is no "them" apart from this interlocking. Or in other words: The perichoresis *is* the being.

    Perhaps one "Life" is a way of updating the one "Substance" language?

  7. Chris E

    " “Trinity is great but we also need to focus on God’s unity.”"

    What context do people typically say this in? Just wondering, as I've never heard anyone here anything like that.

  8. Chris Oldfield

    Hey fellas. Lovely to drop by and be lifted by this. FWIW a friend has recommended a book I'm looking forward to reading TF Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons on this soon. I also like the use of the word doctrine in here: this is what the gospel teaches about God in Christ; this is what good doctors (who dispense healthy doctrine to make healthy the sick) can do for people. From what he's shared with me already, apparently Torrance uses the terms "enosis" for the union and "koinonia" for the communion of the three in one. So he draws a lot out of the "grace": that the love of God (essence of God is love) the grace of the lord Jesus (essence of Christ is grace) and the sweet fellowship (koinonia) of the holy spirit" shall be with us all ever more . Glen & Dan you may also enjoy what he says about evil as that (un)reality defined by God's resolute denial of all that it is. I find that evangelistically & pastorally compelling: I remember agnosing with a seeker friend who 'd had a bad relationship with his own dad and didnt like the idea of adoption & debt of ownership. I gave him prodigal god and tried to witness that God doesn't come to take but to give. He came back to me saying something I'll never forget. He said "but he does take, he takes your identity". It was brutal, and he was right. but now I see that the only "me" that God takes away is a false one. There is no me outside Christ. Not any more.

  9. Glen

    Hi Chris E, the sentence comes from a conversation I had a few years back in which the person said pretty much exactly this (I forget the precise wording). It prompted a post back then very much like this one - that's why I remember it. I commonly hear people speaking of three-ness and one-ness as concepts that need to be balanced (i.e. given equal air-time) rather than as concepts that must be mutually defined.

    Hi Chris O, haven't read that particular Torrance. Sounds good.

  10. Rich Owen

    Yes. I've heard this too, though for me the more common conversation/misunderstanding is to think we have to give equal airtime to the Three Persons.

    "You keep talking about Jesus, what about the Father? What about the Spirit?"

    Those are concerning questions too, as they indicate (potentially) a misunderstanding of the person of Jesus and of the roles of Father and Spirit, and also perhaps reveals a lack of ontology altogether in their doctrine of God.

  11. Glen

    Yes Rich,
    I think the simplest way to close off tritheism in all its manifestations is to be obsessed with *Jesus* not so much 'Trinity.' There's only one Jesus, in whom the fullness of the deity lives.

  12. Dave K

    I enjoyed this post and comments too.

    Chris, the end of your comment reminds me of this quote from Kierkegaard I recently read:

    "There is only one who completely knows himself, who in himself knows what he himself is — that is God. And he also knows what each human being is in himself, because he is that only by being before God. The person who is not before God is not himself either, which one can be only by being in the one who is in himself."

    Both what you said and Kierkegaard sounds quite beautiful to my ears.

    Daniel, human beings in family relationships are an IMAGE of the Trinity. So there will be likeness, but also unlikeness. Families are certainly a better starting place than metaphysical concepts or metaphors (lots of metas...). But, then in the end the comments on this post have gone further to THE image who is a perfect representation. In pointing out the failings of the family image its quite nice that your comment has worked itself out in that direction.

  13. Daniel

    Just had a chance to catch up with all these comments - loving the conversation. It seems to me, Glen, that 'one Life' could be a really good way forward. Like any of the language we use to describe this particular doctrine, it would need backup language, but I like the way it captures the 'substance' stuff in an activist ontology - which is just to say, it describes a God whose unity is vivid and intra-active rather than solid and set in stone.

    Agree too - really really agree - that focus on Christ is what overcomes our problems with the doctrine of the Trinity. Here is God!

  14. Matthew Weston

    I don't know which I find more confusing: the subject matter above or the fact that there are at least two Torrances. What I *do* understand of the above is good stuff however.

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