Last week, I told you about Athanasius, one of my favourite early church theologians. Let’s carry that on to another of my favourites: Gregory of Naziansus.
In Gregory’s time, the debate was not about whether Jesus was God or human. It was about whether Father, Son and Holy Spirit were three Gods – or one God appearing in three ways, or whatever.
The final understanding, the one Christians have been struggling to get our minds around ever since, was that there are three beings or persons, in one essence. Father, Son, and Spirit are separate individuals, but live as one God-ness.
Early church theologians used a number of analogies to explain what this meant. For example, a spring leads to a stream which leads to a river – they’re all the same water, all the same “thing” essentially, but they are all different as well. There was the roots, trunk and branches – all the same tree, all the same thing, but they have their own unique properties as well.
My favourite explanation was from Gregory. I haven’t read this in over a decade, so I can’t give you the exact words, but it was something like this: What was Adam? A creature made by God. What was Eve? She was Adam’s rib, the same thing as Adam, but she was also another creature made by God. What was Seth? He was Adam and Eve’s son, he was both of them – the same stuff – but he was also another creature made by God. They were three people, but they were also all the same thing as Adam.
There’s all sorts of other ways people have tried to explain the Trinity over the years. One from the Greek church which I find quite wonderful is “perichoiesis” - a dance. In this dance, there are three dancers, at different times they each are featured more prominently, but they are all always there, dancing together.