St. Patrick and the Trinity

On this, St. Patrick’s Day, I think it’s worth recalling that St. Patrick is known not only for converting Ireland to Christianity, and not only for banishing all the snakes from Ireland, but also for being a major advocate and defender of the Doctrine of the Trinity. Which, when you think about just how difficult a feat that really is, may be the most stunning element of Patrick’s resume. For how do we explain or even understand that God is one God, indivisible, and yet also three persons, distinct in identity?

When I was a child, my Mom tried to help me understand the Trinity by comparing it to water. Although H2-O is one thing, she explained, it can be expressed as liquid, steam, or ice. That worked for me pretty well for quite a while – actually, until I got to seminary and discovered it was a heresy! (Well, Mom, I never said I loved you because you are orthodox.)

By and large, my mom’s in pretty good company. For as this video explains, it’s pretty darn hard to explain the Trinity and not fall into heresy. But as Phil Krey, one of my favorite church history professors, once explained, it takes two things to be declared a heretic. 1) You need to have bad theology and 2) you need to be in a position to do damage to the Church. Which means that must of us, I think, are safe, on St. Patrick’s Day and the rest of the year to boot, just to believe and enjoy the Trinity, even if we don’t understand it!

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