In previous posts in this series, we have seen that the Trinity matters a lot because it is who God is, and we have then seen that although we can’t know everything about any aspect of God, the Bible does give us “models” to help us think about Him.
What models can we use to think about the Trinity? There are two that people in church history have found particularly useful – the psychological analogy, and the social analogy. I’ll look at the psychological analogy in this post, and the social analogy in the next one.
The psychological analogy dates back to Augustine of Hippo, who was the most influential theologian of all time. He wrote one of the most influential books on the Trinity – De Trinitate – which was published in around 417 AD.
Augustine reasoned that because human beings are made in the image of God, we should expect to see something that reflects the Trinity in us. His argument is detailed and long, but it is based around the idea of what we do when we love ourselves. If I love myself, I have to have an idea of myself in my head to love – that means a second me in my head. The eighteenth century theologian Jonathan Edwards explained it like this:
If a man could have an absolutely perfect idea of all that passed in his mind, all the series of ideas and exercises in every respect perfect as to order, degree, circumstance and for any particular space of time past, suppose the last hour, he would really to all intents and purpose be over again what he was that last hour. And if it were possible for a man by reflection perfectly to contemplate all that is in his own mind in an hour, as it is and at the same time that it is there in its first and direct existence; if a man, that is, had a perfect reflex or contemplative idea of every thought at the same moment or moments that that thought was and of every exercise at and during the same time that that exercise was, and so through a whole hour, a man would really be two during that time, he would be indeed double, he would be twice at once. The idea he has of himself would be himself again.
Augustine said that the relationship between God the Father and God the Son is a bit like this. God loves himself, and therefore has to have an idea of himself to love – but that means there are two “things”, or rather persons, involved. The lover, and the beloved. Or, rather, the Father, and the Son.
How does the Holy Spirit fit in? For Augustine, he is the love that there is between the Father and the Son. (Many people see the Holy Spirit as the biggest weakness in Augustine’s scheme.)
Because of this theory, Augustine is able to say that different parts of human minds reflect the different persons of the Trinity. The Son is God’s self-understanding – He is reflected in our capacity for understanding. The Spirit is God’s love – he is reflected in our will, with which we should decide to love. The Father is reflected in our memory.
There is certainly some biblical basis for parts of this theory. The Father and the Son definitely love each other in the Bible. And there’s some basis for the idea of the Son being like God’s understanding – the Bible refers to him as God’s wisdom, for example. But it would be much harder to argue that one can get the whole scheme from scripture.
In the next post I will take a look at the other main analogy – the social analogy.