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The Trinity for beginners, A Trinitarian Primer

By: 'Kevin Mark' - 9th of February 2011

Kairos: Volume 22, Issue 3

By Kevin Mark

The Trinity for beginners, A Trinitarian Primer

By Neil Ormerod, St Pauls, PB, $12.95, 95pp

While the Trinity is fundamental to Christian belief, it is a doctrine that is confusing to many people. This brief book aims to explain what the Christian tradition means by the ‘Triune God’.

The author, Dr Neil Ormerod, is professor of theology at Australian Catholic University, and has published both academic and general-readership works in Australia and internationally.
These include the scholarly study, The Trinity: Retrieving the Western Tradition (2005). His new book is aimed at presenting these insights to a more general audience.

The book is presented in three main sections. The first examines the Scriptures to present the origins of Christian belief in the Trinity. Ormerod begins by considering Old Testament concepts such as the ‘Spirit of God’ and the ‘Divine Word’, which helped the writers of the New Testament to express what they had experienced in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and the sending of his Spirit.

Ormerod then looks at the evidence for a basic belief in the Trinity in the New Testament writings, and the question of what experiences led its authors to express their faith in a trinitarian manner.

It is a long journey from the Scriptures to the Church’s doctrine of the Trinity, as defined in the creeds of the Councils of Nicea (325 AD) and Constantinople (381 AD). Rather than detail this complex history, for the purposes of this book, Ormerod uses an explanation of the Nicene Creed (which we recite each Sunday) to understand what the Church believes about the Trinity. This forms the second section of the book. It includes discussion of relationships among the persons of the Trinity (including the issue of ‘procession’), and the meaning of ‘one substance’.

The third section presents a means to understand the Trinity: by the use of analogies in the created order. Ormerod presents some of the attempts in the early Church to understand the Trinity through simple analogies.

He then focuses on what he considers the highpoint of his approach: the ‘psychological analogy’ proposed by St Augustine and developed by St Thomas Aquinas. This sees an intimate connection between love and truth, as Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his 2009 encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (‘Love in Truth’): “love is rich in intelligence and intelligence is full of love”.

The first appendix tackles concerns about the use of masculine language (Father, Son) in the traditional description of the Trinity. The second appendix offers homily notes for Trinity Sunday, based on the readings for each of the three years of the liturgical cycle.

This well-considered book concludes with an accessible glossary of terms.


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