My granddaughter Lila said yesterday, “I believe in Jesus, God, and Santa Claus.”
My daughter Megan said in response, “I guess she has the Trinity figured out. Not sure if it aligns with the Council of Nicaea though.”
Let’s sort through some historical facts and then come back to Lila.
An all-church council (over 1,200 bishops and entourages) met in Nicaea in 325 A.D. at the behest of Emperor Constantine to deal with the “Arian Controversy.” A clergyman named Arius had been teaching that Jesus was created as the divine Son and therefore subordinate to the Father.
Other theologians disagreed and the ensuing debate threatened the unity of the church and the empire. Constantine’s solution? “Theologians and bishops, have a retreat and figure this out. And this isn’t a suggestion, it is a command.”
(It was also nice that he paid for their travel, food, and lodging for the trip to Nicaea.)
The Council of Nicaea rejected the teaching of Arius and put together the initial part of the Nicene Creed – embracing Jesus as the Son of God, who was consubstantial (same essence) with the Father.
In 381 A.D. an additional Council in Constantinople added teaching about the Holy Spirit.
Both the 325 A.D. Council and the 381 A.D. Council developed the Nicene Creed which has been the foundational doctrine of Christianity since that time. That’s almost 1650 years – who says the church can’t agree on anything?
The term Trinity, describing the thoughts of the Nicene Creed, was first used popularly by Tertullian in the 200s. Tertullian’s words, and the thoughts of many other early church fathers, were expressed in what we know today as the Nicene Creed (made from both Councils at Nicaea and Constantinople).
The creed gives definition to the Trinity – without using the actual word. Below is the part of the creed that teaches about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:
I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made… I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.
God used theologians to define the Trinity. I believe that the Trinity comes as close as words-bound-to-humans-and-time can possibly come to describing God.
Mystery – still; questions – of course; helpful – majestically so!
I’m not offended by… Jesus, God, and Santa Claus.
Two out of three isn’t bad for a budding four-year-old theologian.