The Limits of Language When Talking About the Trinity

Posted: October 23, 2012 in augustine, god, theology

The Parable of the Holy Trinity

In this excerpt, Augustine reflects on the inherent insufficiency of human language to capture the reality of the triune Godhead.  This is a helpful reminder that our feeble attempts to understand and elucidate the Godhead do not exhaust the ineffable reality that is the divine Trinity.  Yet we must make the attempt, lest that reality remain “wholly unspoken.”

[With regard to the Trinity, we say] one essence or substance and three persons: as many writers in Latin … have said, in that they could not find any other more suitable way by which to enunciate in words that which they understood without words. For, in truth, as the Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Father, and that Holy Spirit who is also called the gift of God is neither the Father nor the Son, certainly they are three. …Yet, when the question is asked, What three? human language labors altogether under great poverty of speech. The answer, however, is given, three “persons,” not that it might be [completely] spoken, but that it might not be left [wholly] unspoken.

– Augustine, On the Trinity5.9

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