By Aisha Brown
What is the source of the Christian concept of the Trinity?
A Formal Doctrine Is Drawn Up
When controversy over the matter of the Trinity blew up in 318 between two church men from Alexandria – Arius, the deacon, and Alexander, his bishop – Emperor Constantine stepped into the fray.
Although Christian dogma was a complete mystery to him, he did realize that a unified church was necessary for a strong kingdom. When negotiation failed to settle the dispute, Constantine called for the first ecumenical council in Church history in order to settle the matter once and for all.
Six weeks after the 300 bishops first gathered at Nicea in 325, the doctrine of the Trinity was hammered out. The God of the Christians was now seen as having three essences, or natures, in the form of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The Church Puts Its Foot Down
The matter was far from settled, however, despite high hopes for such on the part of Constantine. Arius and the new bishop of Alexandria, a man named Athanasius, began arguing over the matter even as the Nicene Creed was being signed; ’Arianism’ became a catch-word from that time onward for anyone who didn’t hold to the doctrine of the Trinity.
It wasn’t until 451, at the Council of Chalcedon that, with the approval of the Pope, the Nicene/Constantinople Creed was set as authoritative. Debate on the matter was no longer tolerated; to speak out against the Trinity was now considered blasphemy, and such earned stiff sentences that ranged from mutilation to death. Christians now turned on Christians, maiming and slaughtering thousands because of a difference of opinion.
Brutal punishments and even death did not stop the controversy over the doctrine of the Trinity, however, and the said controversy continues even today.
The majority of Christians, when asked to explain this fundamental doctrine of their faith, can offer nothing more than ’I believe it because I was told to do so’. It is explained away as ’mystery‘– yet the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 14:33 that “… God is not the author of confusion …”
The Unitarian denomination of Christianity has kept alive the teachings of Arius in saying that God is one; they do not believe in the Trinity. As a result, mainstream Christians abhor them, and the National Council of Churches has refused their admittance. In Unitarianism, the hope is kept alive that Christians will someday return to the preachings of Jesus: “… You shall worship the Lord the God, and Him only shall you serve.” (Luke 4:8)
Islam and the Matter of the Trinity
While Christianity may have a problem defining the essence of God, such is not the case in Islam:
They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity, for there is no god except One God. (Al-Ma’idah 5:73)
It is worth noting that the Arabic language Bible uses the name ‘Allah’ as the name of God.
Suzanne Haneef, in her book What Everyone Should Know About Islam and Muslims (Library of Islam, 1985), puts the matter quite succinctly when she says:
’But God is not like a pie or an apple which can be divided into three thirds which form one whole; if God is three persons or possesses three parts, He is assuredly not the Single, Unique, Indivisible Being which God is and which Christianity professes to believe in.’ (pp. 183-184)
Looking at it from another angle, the Trinity designates God as being three separate entities – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. If God is the Father and also the Son, He would then be the Father of Himself because He is His own Son. This is not exactly logical.
Christianity claims to be a monotheistic religion. Monotheism, however, has as its fundamental belief that God is one; the Christian doctrine of the Trinity– God being Three-in-One – is seen by Islam as a form of polytheism. Christians don’t revere just One God, they revere three.
This is a charge not taken lightly by Christians, however. They, in turn, accuse the Muslims of not even knowing what the Trinity is, pointing out that the Qur’an, sets it up as Allah the Father, Jesus the Son, and Mary his mother. While veneration of Mary has been a figment of the Catholic Church since 431 when she was given the title ‘Mother of God’ by the Council of Ephesus, a closer examination of the verses in the Qur’an most often cited by Christians in support of their accusation, shows that the designation of Mary by the Qur’an as a ‘member’ of the Trinity, is simply not true.
While the Qur’an does condemn both trinitarianism:
O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His messengers. Say not “Trinity”: desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is one Allah: Glory be to Him: (far exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs. (An-Nisaa’ 4:171)
, and the worship of Jesus and his mother Mary:
And behold! Allah will say: ‘O Jesus the son of Mary! Did you say unto men, worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah’? He will say: ‘Glory to You! never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, You would indeed have known it. (Al-Ma’idah 5:116)
, nowhere does it identify the actual three components of the Christian Trinity. The position of the Qur’an is that ‘who’ or ‘what’ comprises this doctrine is not important; what is important is that the very notion of a Trinity is an affront against the concept of One God.
In conclusion, we see that the doctrine of the Trinity is a concept conceived entirely by man; there is no sanction whatsoever from God to be found regarding the matter simply because the whole idea of a Trinity of divine beings has no place in monotheism. In the Qur’an, God’s Final Revelation to mankind, we find His stand quite clearly stated in a number of eloquent passages:
… Your God is One God: whoever expects to meet his Lord, let him work righteousness, and, in the worship of his Lord, admit no one as partner. (Al-Kahf 18:110)
… Take not, with God, another object of worship, lest you should be thrown into Hell, blameworthy and rejected. (Al-Israa’ 17:39)
This is because, as God tells us over and over again in a Message that is echoed throughout ALL His revealed Scriptures:
… I am your Lord and Cherisher: therefore, serve Me (and no other) … (Al-Anbiyaa’ 21:92)