There are a number of misconceptions about the Christian conception of the Trinity. But, I will try to explain the ideas behind the doctrine of the Trinity in simple terms. It is one thing to state a doctrine. It is another thing to understand the doctrine the way Christians understand the personhood of Allah.
Let’s begin by considering our own personhood. At the core of what we are, as individual persons, there is a foundational self sometimes called, the soul, the ego, the spirit, the mind, the intellect or simply the ‘I.’ From this foundational core emanates our thought life, our choices, and our desires. Since we are human beings, our old thoughts pass from us and our new thoughts emerge into our consciousness. In one sense, our thoughts are ourselves or what we are as persons. Our thoughts are like a stream of consciousness by which we are aware of our environment and by which we think and reflect about ourselves and our surroundings. Since an individual human being has an intellect that thinks thoughts, there is an intrinsic relationship between the mind and its thoughts.
At this time, we should develop a clearer understanding of immaterial entities. Material entities are the physical objects that surround us, such as, cars, dogs, oceans, paper, ink, and computers. They are things that take up three-dimensional space, and we can put them on a scale and see how much they weigh. Immaterial things are things that don’t depend upon three-dimensional space, and they can’t be placed upon a weighing scale. For example, twenty five milliliters of ink and five hundred grams of paper are material objects. But, the Bible and the Qur’an are more than just paper and ink. There is ‘meaning’ and ‘thoughts’ in addition to the paper and ink. The ‘thoughts’ are not measured in grams. Just pouring ink onto pages of paper would not produce the Bible or the Qur’an. It takes a mind expressing its thoughts to cause a Bible or Qur’an.
Furthermore, when a mind thinks about a palm tree across the street, the palm tree is not in the mind with all of its leaves, roots, and tree trunk. When the mind thinks about the tree, it uses an immaterial abstraction of the palm tree that it had previously seen across the street. When a person looks at a palm tree, the person has an extrinsic relationship with the palm tree. However, later, when the person is thinking about the tree, there is an intrinsic relationship between the mind and its immaterial recollection of the tree. It is an intrinsic relationship because the mind and the thought of the tree are both within a person’s being. Furthermore, it is an non-material relationship because the intellect and its thought are both immaterial. So, this shows there can be intrinsic relationships that are both immaterial and relate to personhood.
Since our thoughts are constantly changing and passing away, our thoughts are not our real foundational self. They are merely passing entities. Because, if our thoughts were ourselves, our personhood would pass away as our thoughts passed away. When we sleep, we no longer think; unless, of course, we are dreaming. So, it seems clear that the history of our thoughts are not our core self, because our thoughts take wings and fly away. But, what constitutes us as human beings and persons remains with us. Our thoughts are not our personhood, but they are products or activities of our minds. So, our personhood has a very basic and foundational Self, I, or intellect. This foundational mind generates our thoughts, emotions, and desires by which we are self-conscious beings.
So, in conclusion, human personhood has a foundational entity that is basic to whom we are as persons. It is called variously the self, the I, the mind, and the intellect.
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But, hypothetically, what would be the case, if our thoughts never changed and these thoughts encompassed everything that we would ever know? In the Divine Mind, the ‘thought’ of Allah is immutable and unchanging and ever present in the essence of Allah. This is because Allah is omniscient, or all-knowing. Allah never learns anything, because He already knows everything. In one sense, Allah does not ‘think’, as if He had to reason from premises to attain a true conclusion. Rather, He is ever and always the ‘the Knowing One’ who immediately knows everything there is to know in one unified thought or word. To express this unity in the thought of Allah, Christians use the term, al-Kalima, rather than the plural term, al-Kalaam.
The Word (Al-Kalima) expresses the essence of Allah’s eternal unfathomable Thought. Al-Kalima is the eternal, unchanging and self-coherent Thought of Allah. The Al-Kalima is infinite in its knowledge and wisdom, because al-Kalima belongs to the same divine essence as the divine Intellect. The essence of Al-Kalima is identical to the essence of the subsisting divine Self.
For Allah to be a Being and a person who knows, Allah must have both a mind and a thought (albeit, an all-encompassing thought). In human beings, the mind is the source of human thought. Analogously, the divine mind is the source of divine thought. We might say that the unbegotten mind is the source of the begotten Al-Kalima. Since both the divine Mind and the divine Al-Kalima are the same identical essence, we can conclude that they have the identical natures. In human terms, we know that a human son has the same nature as his father. So, in Christian theology, the foundational, unbegotten, and knowing Self is termed the Father while the begotten thought and known Al-Kalima (Word) is termed the Son.
The foundational Person who generated or begets the Word is the Father. The Word, who is the begotten Kalima of the unbegotten Self, is the Person of the Son, the eternal Kalima (Please notice that the term, al-Kalima is used and not the term, al-Kalaam that Muslims use to describe the Qur’an. Christians believe in the unity of the divine mind; and, hence the term, Al-Kalima is more appropriate because it is singular and Allah knows everything in one unity of thought.) In addition, the Al-Kalima has the same eternal and uncreated essence of the Father.
The Apostle John wrote,
The Word (the Greek word is “logos” and “logic” is its English cognate) is ‘generated’ or ‘begotten’ of the Father. Likewise, there is a generative relationship between a human intellect and a human thought, so there is an analogous generative relationship between the Father and the Word. Allah, as Father, is neither generated nor begotten. It is the Word that is generated or begotten by the co-eternal Father. The intellect and the word are of the same nature, since one begets the other. Likewise, the eternal Father and the eternal Son are the same divine essence.
The Christians who lived in the first centuries of Christianity faced the Greek and Roman pagan world. In the pantheon of pagan allahs, the allahs mated and gave birth to new allahs. Their conception of allahs, some who were fathers and others who were sons and daughters, was radically different from the Christian concept of the persons of the one Allah. The Christian conception of the Trinity has nothing to do with the pagan idea of an allah begetting another allah. Yet, this is what many other religions claim Christians believe. The Christian conception is that there is one divine essence who is the eternal and infinite Allah. Within in that divine essence, there are three subsisting relationships. There is the relationship between a foundational Self (the Father) and the expressed Thought or Word (the Son, Al-Kalima). The Father is the Unbegotten One while the Son is the Begotten One.
Yet, they are both consubstantially the one divine essence. I use the word con-substantial because that expresses the idea that the Father and the Word are the same identical divine essence or substance. To say they are the substantially the same might cause some confusion. For example, all human beings have the essence of human-ness. Therefore, human beings are all substantially the same, but they are not con-substantially the same. Consubstantial means the same exact, identical substance. For example, if someone were to say that Mr. Smith is a farmer and is also a son, we are not suggesting that there are two Mr. Smiths who are both of human substance. We are saying that Mr. Smith is consubstantial with himself, because there is only one Mr. Smith who is both a farmer and a son. One is his relationship to his vocation, and the other denotes Mr. Smith’s relationship to his father.
Since Allah is spirit, there cannot be a material or a physical relationships within Allah. The eternal subsisting relationships within Allah have to be immaterial or spiritual relationships. And, these are precisely the type of relationships we find in scripture on the doctrine of the Trinity. When we use the term divine substance, we do not mean ‘material’ substance, which is the common idea of substance today. We use the term substance as it applies to immaterial beings, such as Allah and angels. Furthermore, these relationships are not different and distinct beings. Just as the relationships between our ‘self’ and our ‘thoughts’ and our ‘desires’ are not different and distinct beings. Rather they are real immaterial relationships that exist within us as human beings.
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The Person: Thought article discussed the relationship between our intellect and our thoughts. We noted that our intellect gives rise to our thoughts. We discussed the fact that our thoughts are changing and often disappear with time. We observed that our thoughts are many and varied and that our thoughts are not the same thing as our personhood. Our human thoughts are an activity of our minds, and they are not the very essence of our humanness.
We then asked, what would be the case for an infinite and omniscient Being whose thoughts (more properly, ‘thought’, or ‘word’) were always present to itself and whose thoughts never changed? We concluded that those thoughts would then be of the essence of the divine Being. We noted there was an analogous relationship between the human intellect and the human thought and that between the divine Mind and the divine Word. This is because the divine Self knows the divine Word. In John’s gospel chapter one, the Logos (the Word, Al-Kalima) is a singular word denoting the unity of the thought in the mind of Allah. Human thoughts are fragmented and varied. So, it is actually improper to speak of the Son with the name, Thoughts, because it is a plural word. Rather, the term, Al-Kalima, should be used to express the divine unity of the knowledge and mind of Allah.
We cannot imagine an All-Knowing Allah who does not have an immutable Mind and an immutable Word. Since the Mind and the Word are the same identical essence; and, since the Mind generates its Word, the Mind is called Father, and the Word is called Son. Just as it is necessary for an All-Knowing Allah to have a Mind and a Word, likewise, it is necessary for both the Father and the Son to exist equally and essentially. Knowledge requires both a Knower and a Known. Since Allah has knowledge of Himself, Allah must be both the Knower and the Known. Finally, the begotten Son relationship within Allah is co-eternal and consubstantial with the unbegotten Father relationship within Allah.
Let’s return again to our own personhood. We noted that persons have intellect and will. We have already discussed the relationship between the intellect and what the intellect knows. Now, we need to discuss the relationship between the will and what the will desires or loves. As human beings, we know that our will loves different things at different times. The object of our will changes and new desires emerge into our consciousness. Again, in one sense, what we love seems intimately related to what we are as persons. But, since the object of our will changes, what our will wills vary with time. Hence, the love of our will cannot be the same thing as our person, because, if it were, as our love diminished, our personhood would diminish too.
Again, we ask, what would be the case, if the object of our will never changed and its love for that object included everything that we ever loved? In the Divine Will, the ‘love’ of Allah is immutably constant and ever present in the essence of Allah. Therefore, the love of the divine Will is of the essence of Allah, since the divine love is immutably and eternally the same. For love to exist in the essence of Allah, there has to be a subsisting eternal relationship within Allah of a Lover and One who is Beloved. Something is necessary to bind the Lover and the Beloved together. Love is that which proceeds from the Lover and from the Beloved. Thus, there is a divine subsisting relationship in the essence of Allah of one who ‘proceeds’ or is a ‘procession’ of love from the Father and from the Son.
Chapter two of the Westminster Confession of Faith states that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son.
In part One, Question 27, Article 3 of the Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas stated,
St. Thomas Aquinas noted that the relationship of procession is not an extrinsic relationship. He wrote, “we must observe that procession exists in God, only according to an action which does not tend to anything external, but remains in the agent itself.” Why is this? Basically, the Trinity describes the nature of the personhood of God itself. This means that the Trinity pre-existed the creation of the universe. Before creation, the only existent was Allah. So, the only type of pre-creation processions available were relationships within Deity itself. Hence, the processions were intrinsic to Deity itself. For example, the mind’s intellect has an intrinsic relationship to its own intelligible thought. The mind’s will has an intrinsic relationship of love to its object of love.
So, what binds the Lover (Father, Intellect) and the Beloved (Son, Word) is the subsisting relationship of Love (Will) between the Father and the Son. This Love is called the Holy Spirit. The three Persons of the Godhead are consubstantially the one divine essence.
So, the Holy Trinity of Persons is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the One divine essence called Allah. These divine persons teach us about the personhood of Deity. The doctrine of the Trinity gives us insight into the nature of the mind, thought, and love of All-Mighty Allah. The personhood of Allah has to be different from human personhood because Al-Kalima, the Word, and the Love of Allah never change like the changeable thoughts and loves of human beings.
For there to be a Spirit of love in the One Eternal Allah, there must be an eternal Father and an eternal Son. Love requires a Lover, a Beloved, and a uniting Love itself. In book IX, Chapter 4 of his book ‘On the Trinity,’ St. Augustine affirmed this concept when he wrote,
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