trinityMany months ago I wrote an essay for The Imaginative Conservative entitled “The Mysteries of Atheism” in which I highlighted the mysterious trinity which all atheists acknowledge, albeit without knowing it; or, to be precise, the two trinities that they unknowingly acknowledge, namely, the trinity of space and the trinity of time. I pointed out that the wholeness or unity of space consisted of three inseparable and consubstantial dimensions (length, breadth, and depth), and the wholeness or unity of time also consisted of three inseparable and consubstantial dimensions (past, present, and future). These trinities are as mysterious as the Holy Trinity, insofar as their oneness or unity is inseparable from the triune “threeness.”

For Christians, who acknowledge a Trinitarian God and believe with Gerard Manley Hopkins that the world is charged with His grandeur, there is little surprise that the physical fabric of the cosmos is made in His Trinitarian image. We can see the trinity of space and the trinity of time as what might be called God’s fingerprints on his handiwork. For the atheist, however, who refuses to accept the existence of God and who is accustomed to ridiculing Christians for their belief in an “irrational” Trinity, the triune nature of the universe is much more problematic.

So much for the quandary that atheists face in the light of the trinities of physics. More recently, after having a good and healthy conversation with a Muslim on a flight home from a speaking engagement, I was struck by a similar quandary that those who follow Islam must face, not so much in the light of the trinities of physics, though this should certainly give them pause for thought, but in the trinity of metaphysics.

The transcendental or metaphysical dimension of reality has been described by Plato and by the great Christian scholastic philosophers as the unity of the good, the true, and the beautiful, placing a trinity at the heart of both physics and metaphysics. I believe that Christ is referring to His own incarnation of this transcendental trinity when He tells us that He is the way, and the truth, and the life. The good can be seen as “the way” of virtue, which is love (caritas); the true is “the truth” of right reason leading to knowledge (scientia); the beautiful is “the life” of creation or creativity (poiesis). Thus we see how Christ is the fulfilment of the transcendental reason of the Greeks as He is also the fulfilment of the covenantal faith of the Jews. He is, therefore, the unity and incarnation of faith and reason, as He is also the unity and incarnation of the transcendental trinity of the good, the true, and the beautiful.

Once again, we see that the Trinitarian God has made the cosmos in His image, weaving the Trinity, i.e. Himself, into the pattern of the magic carpet of physics and metaphysics. Even more beautiful is the fact that the glorious trinity of the good, the true and the beautiful is comprised of three other trinities, interwoven within it: the good is a trinity; the true is a trinity; and the beautiful is a trinity. The transcendentals are nothing less than a glorious trinity of trinities!

Let’s explore this wonderful trinity of trinities a little closer.

Since the good is synonymous with love, it is always the laying down of ourselves sacrificially for the beloved. As such, love is always the triune dynamism of the lover, the beloved, and the love that the lover gives to the beloved. Love, i.e. the good, is a trinity.

star-forming-region-s106Since the true is the truth of right reason leading to knowledge, it is always the engagement of ourselves sacrificially with the “other” beyond ourselves—the subjecting of ourselves to the objective facts which we experience through our physical senses, the “stuff” of which our intellect endeavours to “make sense.” The true is therefore always the triune dynamism of the knower, the thing known, and the knowledge that the thing known gives to the knower. Reason, i.e. the true, is a trinity.

Since the beautiful is “the life” of creation or creativity, it is always the opening of ourselves to the beauty that we see in God’s Creation, and it is this beauty that we seek and discover in our own procreative acts of sub-creation by which we make things from other things that already exist. The beautiful is always the triune dynamism of the beholder, the thing beheld, and the gift of harmony that the thing beheld bestows upon the beholder. (It must be stressed that beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, which might be blind, but in the intrinsic, objective beauty of the thing beheld. Something beautiful does not become ugly because we fail to see its beauty.) On a deeper level, the beautiful is the fruit of the marriage between the Inspirer (the Muse) and the one inspired (the artist), in which case we can see the Giver of the gift of creativity as the Bridegroom, the artist who receives the gift of inspiration as the Bride, and the beautiful work of art as the Child of the marriage. The beautiful is, therefore, a trinity.

Since space is a trinity; time is a trinity; and the good, the true, and the beautiful, is not only a trinity but a trinity of trinities, where does it leave my Muslim interlocutor who of necessity must deny the Trinity or else deny his own faith? It leaves him in the same place as the atheist, in the presence of a mystery that he cannot explain and which makes a mockery of his precious presumptions. God is not a Lonely God, to employ Chesterton’s phrase for the Islamic Allah. He is not a Monolith. He is God the Good, God the True, and God the Beautiful—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Deo gratias!

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6 replies to this post
  1. I am a Muslim Neo-Platonist who, but for the fact of my esteem for the oasis of intelligence which is the Imaginative Conservative, would not dream to attempt to explicate the One and its relation to the Three. I shall always let Plato accomplish that feat (see his Parmenides) But Plato was most certainly NOT a Trinitarian! It is to correct this opinion that I write. By elaborating Plato’s doctrines Plotinus, Proclus and finally Damascius unravel this eternally knotted ball of yarn, to the satisfaction of rigorous esoterists throughout the ages . In short Manifestation ie Time, Space etc is indeed Trinitarian. Above the manifested cosmos however there is a hierarchy of Principles all the way up to the Supreme Principle, the ONE. (see Pseudo-Dionysius’s ‘Celestial Hierarchy’ where the Neo-Platonic Proclus is turned into the brilliant Christian Ps.-Dionysius without however untying the KNOT.) Dionysius finally, as he must as a Christian, puts the Trinity in the place of the Supreme Principle (note the singular! not Principles!) Be this as it may the authentic Platonist Neo-Platonists go further and explain that if the One ‘is’, the One ‘is not’ and so they go beyond Being to the Unutterably Ineffable Unmentionable and Tremendous Source of all, if you excuse the necessary contradiction. Having said this I accept that Trinitarian Theology saves as do all orthodox doctrines. Orthodox Religions are expedient means for salvation but not to us metaphysicians satisfactory explanations for the awesome self explanatory phenomena of being.
    PS There is an authentic Christian exponent of this perspective, the great ninth century John Scot Eriugena.

  2. It seems from what I have ascertained from wide reading that the Islamic notion of God lies at the foundation of nominalism such as formulated with Ockham….the trajectory from Ockham arrives at atheism. A theological adventure worth following up. In the end atheism and is cultural emanation secularism is the strange bedfellow of Islam. Islam makes God’s law the only absolute and subjects the whole world to it; its global project. Similarly atheism/secularism makes the autonomous individual the absolute with society managed by agreed contracts which subjugate the minority in order to promote the absolute freedom of the individual according to the state contract terms.

  3. Biblical connections abound, if one has the eyes to see and ears to hear besides the heart to believe (hey, a trinity!). One of the most compelling connections for me is when I was a teenager I read the story of Joseph and how he framed his brother Benjamin for theft of a cup. He threatened to punish Benjamin before his other brothers, and it was Judah who stepped forward and offered to take Benjamin’s place. It hit me like a fist to the stomach: my God! Christ is the “Lion of the tribe of Judah!” This was foretold from the beginning! Glory to God!

  4. Fedor I.G.G.

    I don’t think that Mr. Pearce intended to argue or necessarily imply that Plato was a Trinitarian. There are, of course, many common notes, or echos between the Neo-Platonists and the Trinity of Christianity. There are a number of very close alignments between the concept of The One, The Nous/Logos, and the World Soul and the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yet you are correct that neither Plato nor the Neo-platonists such as Plotinus were Trinitarian in the Christian sense and there are very important and very big distinctions that differentiate the two ideas.

    Mr. Pearce was arguing that at the heart of metaphysics there is a trinitarian principle, just as at the heart of physics there are trinitarian principles. Just as space and time are in a sense “three dimensional” so being is “three dimensional”. This of course does not mean that all metaphysicians are Trinitarians anymore than it means all physicists are Trinitarians. All physicists believe in three dimensional space, and all believe in past, present, and future, but many still deny the concept of trinity, let alone the actual Trinitarian God.

    Likewise, Plato can have shown a trinity at the heart of being, without himself having actually been a full Trinitarian.

    The point is that classical metaphysics (beginning with Plato running down two the European scholastics such as Aquinas and Bonaventure) shows that Being is at the same time One, and that Being is Good, True, and Beautiful. It is at once, one and three.

    This is not to say that The One of Platonic philosophy should be understood as a Trinity, which is indeed not the case.

    I would, of course, disagree that Trinitarian doctrine is inadequate metaphysically, but that is a conversation beyond the scope of a comment section.

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