Spiritual but not religious

Spiritual but not religious

Our monthly feature seeks to offer open-minded, clarifying, and meaningful responses to readers’ questions about spirituality. Send your questions to The Resident.

Q: One of the difficulties of the Christian Religion is the Nicene Creed, which asserts that God is three in one, the Trinity, and that the Son and the Holy Ghost are a part of the Godhead. But this passage from John shows that the Son was begotten, and is therefore younger than God, and cannot be equal with Him… “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).

The question is, How can the Son be begotten, and yet a part of the Trinity?

Thank you, reader, for your question. The concept of the Trinity is a development of the early Christian Church, affirming that in the unity of the Godhead there are three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, truly distinct from one another and yet truly one God.

This formulation of the Trinity is not expressly stated in scripture, and its every aspect has been a source of controversy. The Nicene Creed has its origins in the First Council of Nicaea, summoned in 325 CE by the Emperor Constantine to settle various religious controversies that were causing violent demonstrations in many cities – particularly a teaching by the Alexandrian priest, Arius, that Christ (“the Son”) was not co-eternal with God the Father, but rather, was begotten or created by God from nothing.

But the Trinitarians at Nicaea also found warrant in the Gospel of John for the proposition that Christ is co-eternal, of one being with the Father, rather than created. The prologue of the Gospel states, for example, that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1), and goes on to identify “the Word” specifically with Jesus the Christ – “And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (1:14a). There are many assertions in this Gospel that Jesus and the Father are one.

The Trinitarians prevailed at Nicaea, and the Creed has developed into a more-or-less common formulation among many Christian churches; but it is neither uniformly interpreted nor universally accepted, and continues to raise more questions than it answers. As an element of Christian spiritual practice, the Trinity is probably most helpful as a subject of prayer and contemplation – a particularly challenging and engaging way of wrestling with the ineffable nature of God.

The Rev. Reid Hamilton
St Vincent’s Church