The Sharing Group Discussion: What if the Christian Trinity is More Advanced Than Muslims Realise?
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
Brother Tim posted this on The Sharing Group, on the 17th March, 2015: “What if the Christian Trinity is a more advanced idea of God than most Muslims realise? What is the significance of the triune in Islam?”
Brother Isa Johansson: It is more theologically complex, for sure. Not just more than Muslims realise, but also most Christians.
Brother Dharyn Dharyn: It surely is, but the Trinity as Christians deem it, has no basis in the Bible, as I understand.
Sister Fatima Ali Elsanousi: Usually people who say they are religious have a fascinating talent of twisting things said to a meaning that was not intended – honestly, I do not know a lot about Christians but Muslims do it all the time - so maybe the Trinity as we understand it today is a problem in communication between the speaker and the listener?
Brother Dharyn Dharyn: Sister Fatima, I beg to differ. Muslims do not consider Jesus (a.s.) to be a God. The Trinity is definitely problematic for a Muslim.
Brother Zoltán Homoky: If we look at it as metaphor, then certainly there is something to be learnt.
Brother David W Roesler: The Catholic version of the Trinity is, in my opinion, a kind of rip off of the divine feminine trinity that permeated the ancient world. The Three-Faced Goddess even had a representation in Arabic culture, the so called three sisters who caused a controversy when Muhammad wavered on allowing them of all the old gods of Arabia to have a place in Islam. The so-called Satanic verses that caused Ahmed Salman Rushdie to have a fatwa put on him by Iranian religious authorities. In ancient faiths the divine feminine trinity was many times represented by a wise old woman, a beautiful maiden, and an innocent child. The triune nature was a metaphor for the mercurial nature of women. One moment joyful, the next sad and a moment later enraged. Man was usually symbolised as a duality. His higher noble nature as a king or prince and his lower nature a beast or warrior. The twin natures of man fought over the prize of the ever changing goddess infinite in complexity. The combination of the duality of the lovers and the triune nature of the goddess as they abided in the sacred bridal chamber resulted in a dance that swirled the sweethearts faster and faster and closer and closer until they are one.
Brother Tim Luckcock: Consider this:
يَـٰٓأَهۡلَ ٱلۡڪِتَـٰبِ لَا تَغۡلُواْ فِى دِينِڪُمۡ وَلَا تَقُولُواْ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ إِلَّا ٱلۡحَقَّۚ إِنَّمَا ٱلۡمَسِيحُ عِيسَى ٱبۡنُ مَرۡيَمَ رَسُولُ ٱللَّهِ وَڪَلِمَتُهُ ۥۤ أَلۡقَٮٰهَآ إِلَىٰ مَرۡيَمَ وَرُوحٌ۬ مِّنۡهُۖ فَـَٔامِنُواْ بِٱللَّهِ وَرُسُلِهِۦۖ وَلَا تَقُولُواْ ثَلَـٰثَةٌۚ ٱنتَهُواْ خَيۡرً۬ا لَّڪُمۡۚ إِنَّمَا ٱللَّهُ إِلَـٰهٌ۬ وَٲحِدٌ۬ۖ سُبۡحَـٰنَهُ ۥۤ أَن يَكُونَ لَهُ ۥ وَلَدٌ۬ۘ لَّهُ ۥ مَا فِى ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٲتِ وَمَا فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِۗ وَكَفَىٰ بِٱللَّهِ وَڪِيلاً۬ (١٧١)
O people of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: nor say of Allah aught but truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) an 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: (for Exalted is He) above having a son. To Him Belongs all things in the Heavens and on Earth. And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs. (Surah an-Nisa’:171)
This sounds like it was addressing a local misunderstanding which underemphasised the humanity of Jesus (a.s.). But the fact that he is still called “Messenger”, “Word”, “Spirit of God” presents a sophisticated Christology not far from Jesus (a.s.) in the Trinity.
Sister Eleanor Grant: God’s Word and Spirit are independent from Jesus (a.s.) the Messenger, Brother Tim. That is why we are told to refrain from saying “Trinity”, or three.
Brother Zoltán Homoky: Brother David W Roesler, what is this event of Muhammad (s.a.w.) “wavering” allowing a goddess a place in Islam? Would you mind expanding?
Brother Abdul-Halim Vazquez: I am sure that the Trinity is more complex and nuanced and sophisticated than most Muslims and Christians realise. I mean, I assume that the Pope is not an imbecile. He can do basic arithmetic. Still, that does not mean the Trinity is true. And it does not mean the Trinity is the most useful or valuable way to think about God.
Brother Tim Luckcock: Sister Eleanor, “A Word from God” and “Spirit of God” are indeed titles for Jesus (a.s.) in the Quran, as in this verse. How can you interpret otherwise?
Brother David W Roesler: The three Marie’s in the Gospels is an overt symbol of the triune goddess. It was the Magdalene who was at the grave of Jesus (a.s.), and first encountered him after the resurrection. This is not a coincidence, but I believe points to Christianity’s origins of being a divine feminine based faith, a survivor of the ancient Sumerian goddess Inanna and her two suitors. This faith, like similar ones in Ancient Egypt, with Isis and Osiris; and Babylon with the goddess Ishtar, all centre on the dying and resurrected mate of the goddess. Filled with metaphor and symbolism, it was a very profound and influential spirituality that has influenced art, literature and science. The Ancient Greek philosophers who obtained much of their philosophy from ancient Egypt named their teachings after the goddess. Philosophy means, in Greek, “love of Sophia”, the goddess of knowledge.
Sister Fatima Ali Elsanousi: Brother Dharyn Dharyn, I did not say that Jesus (a.s.) is the Son of God. What I meant is that I think Prophet Jesus (a.s.) is somehow different in nature, but of course not a God.
Sister Eleanor Grant: You are quite right, Brother Tim. We are told to refrain from saying Trinity in the sense of associating Jesus (a.s.) with God. I stand corrected.
Brother Tim Luckcock: The idea of the Trinity as three gods is clearly unacceptable, but I am not sure whether many Christians have ever believed that, though many Muslims assume they do.
Brother Joel Troxell: I do not believe that the verses in the Qur’an Address theology related to the Trinity, but rather cosmology. And this gets into some very nuanced and detailed differences in Trinitarian thinking between Eastern and Western Churches. The Qur’an is actually siding with the East, which tended to be more Arian, which understood that the Logos did not exist and was not begotten of its own volition, but became so strictly by the Will of the Father. This primacy of the Father in the role of the Logos and its incarnation, because I do not believe the Logos is a person in Jesus (a.s.), is almost completely lost in Western cosmological understanding. The idea is that the Father is the Will and Power behind everything that the Logos does, and we find that in the incarnation of the Word in Jesus (a.s.) when he says this:
John 5: 19
19 And Jesus answered them thus: “Believe me when I tell you this, the Son cannot do anything at his own pleasure, he can only do what he sees his Father doing; what the Father Does is what the Son does in his turn.”
19 Ἀπεκρίνατο οὖν ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς: ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, οὐ δύναται ὁ υἱὸς ποιεῖν ἀφ' ἑαυτοῦ οὐδὲν, ἐὰν μή τι βλέπῃ τὸν πατέρα ποιοῦντα: ἃ γὰρ ἂν ἐκεῖνος ποιῇ, ταῦτα καὶ ὁ υἱὸς ὁμοίως ποιεῖ
19 Amen, amen dico vobis: non potest Filius a se facere quidquam, nisi quod viderit Patrem facientem: quæcumque enim ille fecerit, hæc et Filius similiter facit.
Brother Iessa Abdul-Malik: This thread assumes Jesus (a.s.) died. What if he did not die but was raised alive before the Trial and crucifixion of the innocent man?
Brother David W Roesler: The Satanic verses that Salman Rushdie talked about in the book of the same name, tells about a supposed event where Muhammad received a message from God that the three sisters referred to throughout Arabia were to allowed in the new faith. Later, Muhammad supposedly recanted saying the voice he heard was not God’s, but Satan’s. Thus the name of the excised verses lifted from the Qur’an.
Brother Zoltán Homoky: Thank you, Brother David W Roesler. Your first explanation about the patterns of the feminine is most interesting. But regarding the three sisters and the Satanic verses, this is fiction, no? For me, the feminine is inherent within Islam, and needs no extra frills to make this more so, regardless of patriarchal types who would argue against this with their actions.
Brother David W Roesler: Brother Zoltan Homolky, I am pretty sure that Salman Rushdie based his book on actual historical verses, albeit ones that generate a great deal of controversy and criticism in Islam. Rushdie uses the verses in his book as a template to attack, not Islam, but as an insight into human nature. Islamic zealots, however, took the book as an attack on Islam and the Prophet, something I personally believe Rushdie did not intend to do.
Brother Colin Turner: The notion that God is Manifested in all things is far superior to any Trinitarian conception of God.
Brother Tim Luckcock: A Trinitarian conception of God presupposes this, Brother Colin
Brother Abdul-Halim Vazquez: I think the orthodox Trinity is ultimately tritheistic. There are other models like Modalism and Sabellianism which make sense, but Christianity ultimately declared them heretical.
Brother Tim Luckcock: There is much more to the trinity than meets the eye. Cynthia Bourgeault is on the right track: The Holy Trinity & the Law of Three: Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity.
Brother Joel Troxell: Brother Tim, I just glanced over the article, but I think it is getting to the point that there has to be a beneficial spiritual principle at work in the idea of the Trinity, otherwise people would not have fought so hard for it. I think some of that was expressed in the writings of the Cappadocian Fathers. My father and I were talking about Christological models the other day, and I made the point that a Christological / theological model only has merit as a paradigm for something practical. The New Testament has contradictory models for what was going on with and in Jesus (a.s.), but in just about every narrative there is an explanation for the paradigm. I do not think the New Testament authors had any intent to speak about such matters for any other reason than to make a point about how those paradigms should affect the reader.
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: The Trinity as a doctrine is very complicated. There are two different fundamental conceptions between the Western and the Eastern Church. Western Christianity, including the Catholics and mainstream Protestantism, consider it a Triune God, co-equal with each other, one God in three forms. It is like a triangle. The Orthodox Church and its derivatives consider the Trinity to be the Primacy of the Father with a relationship between the Father and the Son, and the Father and the Holy Spirit. There is no relationship with between the Holy Spirit and the Son. Technically, it is a monotheistic faith. However, it is as far from pure monotheism as one can go. Whilst Islam agrees with the concept of the Omniscient, Omnipresent God the Father, it rejects its anthropomorphism, and its need for a Son for the purposes of the Vicarious Sacrifice. And Trinitarian Christian theology does not have a significant role for the Holy Spirit.
I agree that it is a complex conception of the Divine, but it is needlessly complex to justify an inadequate conception of God. Arius and so many others had issues with it. If we consider that God is Omniscient, then there is no excuse for His inability to Forgive without the Vicarious Sacrifice. That is a fatal limit on His Kingdom. If we consider that Jesus (a.s.) was God, when he was crucified, did God die? If God died, then God is not God since God being the Prime Mover also necessitates Him being the Prime Cause. How can a universe be sustained without its Sustainer? If God did not die, then Jesus (a.s.) is not God.
Strictly from a Biblical perspective, we have no indication of the Trinity anywhere in the Old or New Testament save this single reference:
19 “... you, therefore, must go out, making disciples of all nations, and baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost ...”
19 πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, βαπτίζοντες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος,
19 euntes ergo docete omnes gentes: baptizantes eos in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti:
It is a foreign concept, introduced by the Pauline faction, a nod to Roman paganism. Also, Jesus (a.s.) never called himself the Son of God. This is not in the Greek text or anywhere else. It was always translated as “Son of Man” until they changed it.
Brother Tim Luckcock: I am pondering that the Trinity is a metaphysics that highlights the participation of the microcosm (human), macrocosm (world) & the Transcendent (the Divine). Son, Holy Spirit and Father are the more familiar Christian terms for this threefold dynamic, though they are notoriously fraught for Muslims who seem more concerned about privileging Absolute Oneness rather than dynamic relationship? I think Brother Joel is right to say we are not really talking about definitions of God or Jesus for the sake of it but about frameworks of practice. And does not Islam retain a trinitarian metaphysic of the World, the Soul and the Divine too?
Brother Joel Troxell: So you are suggesting that the trinity functions as a model for interaction between the human individual , creation, and the Divine?
Brother Yunus Temple: I personally believe it boils down to this: in complete and utter Oneness, before Creation and after its destruction, there is no human nor world. No up, no down, no Father , no Son, only He. Which means, God’s True Essence lies in the He. All else are manifestations of He. Herein lies the difference and why, in my opinion, the Islamic theology of tawhid is far more advanced than the Trinity. As in the Buddhist teaching story paraphrased, when a teacher points at the Moon, do not be the one who focuses on his finger. Instead, look to the Moon. It is my opinion that Christians got stuck on the fingers.
Another point is that Christians described God first by the Trinity, which are “things”: Father, Son, Holy Ghost; and then by the aspects of those things. Whereas Muslims describe God firstly by His Attributes and Qualities. Back to the finger analogy: the Muslims use the Created to teach them about these Qualities and Attributes. This is the science of fikr.
Brother Tim Luckcock: Surely God is not so insecure He would need Muslims to be perpetually corrective and competitive on his behalf? As Brother Joel surmised, I am suggesting that the Trinity functions as a model for interaction between the human individual, Creation, and the Divine. There may be more wisdom and common ground in this than Muslims appreciate.
Brother Joel Troxell: Brother Tim, you kind of hit on the idea of the trinitarian model as a framework for human / Divine interaction. Care to unpack it a bit? And then, maybe, we should unpack the paradigm of absolute monotheism in the same way? I was thinking vis-a-vis Jesus (a.s.) saying that the implications of God Being One meant we had to be unified in our devotion to God, and in our unity with other humans.
Brother Tim Luckcock: Take Jesus (a.s.) as God, for example. Most Muslims react hysterically to this notion in theory but in practice it serves to show that Jesus (a.s.) had perfected tawhid. He prayed to the One whom he called “Father”, such was the intimacy, showing himself distinct from God. But he also submitted and submerged his own identity in God so becoming at One with God; he ceased to exist in his own right or as a separate entity. This is the model of being human, but it is also the essence of prophethood and more importantly what Christians understand as Sonship. So I am not sure what all the fuss is about.
Brother Joel Troxell: Brother Tim, maybe it has been misunderstood in the same way that the controversial statement of Imam al-Mugits Husayn ibn Manswur al-Hallaj (q.s.) was misunderstood?
Brother Tim Luckcock: Precisely, Brother Joel. There are literal-minded puritanical Pharisees in all times.
Brother Iain T. Benson: Well, the problem here is a false opposition. The Trinitarian God Created the Heavens and the Earth. So the “my Father is stronger and bigger than your father” kind of argument hardly does justice to sacramental conceptions of Creation that recognise we are Kept in being moment to moment by Grace.
Brother Tim Luckcock: True, Brother Iain but the original post is about complacent Muslim understanding and relative lack of appreciation for Christian wisdom, not rivalry.
Brother Iain T. Benson: Everyone is in, and to some extent trapped by their own tradition. Truth is bigger than any one tradition, and that scares most people. As Ustadz Sa’id Ukur Nursi (r.a.) pointed out, you may believe your tradition to be the fullness and best expression of the truth but that does not give you the right to say another person is entirely wrong. We are all in this learning game together and a bit of humility would reveal to us that eternity itself would cease to exist if time could comprehend it.
Brother Abdul-Halim Vazquez: Is not appreciating the Trinity really a high-priority problem for Muslims? I mean, if we are not clear on Islamic theology, should we really spend a lot of effort trying to reconcile the theology of another religion?
Brother Tim Luckcock: No compulsion to understand the Trinity but when there is a critical misunderstanding that causes 1.6 billion Muslims to think and talk at cross purposes with 2.2 billion Christians, it is a sorry state of affairs.
Brother Hajj Ahmad: The Quranic Proscription clearly Condemns the triune description of God as understood in common Christianity. However, if understood in the context of metaphysics, which is not a common ideology for the masses, it can be explained as Brother Tim sketchily alluded to. The best and most convincing explanation I have ever read was put forth by the exceptional, modern, and still-living Christian contemplative, Bernadette Roberts. Though she knows little about Islamic mysticism, she has studied Far Eastern doctrines, and her gnostic experience within the body of Christianity is unparalleled. Fr. Meister Eckhart pales in comparison to Roberts who basically says that the Christians do not have a clue about the phenomenon of Jesus (a.s.), nor the meaning of Christ, nor the meaning of the Trinity.
In a very shallow nutshell - her book, “What is Self”, is definitely worth reading, the Father indicates the Eternal Unmanifest, the Son indicates the Eternal Manifest, and the Holy Spirit is the passionate love that consumes the self and links the Eternal Unmanifest to the Eternal Manifest. The message of the Trinity is in fact a message of unitary self-realisation and beyond unitary death of the self. For anyone who truly wishes to understand the conundrum of the Trinity from the perspective of a spiritually realised Christian contemplative who is Catholic to boot, and spent 10 years in a monastery, by all means obtain and read the book of hers mentioned above.
Brother Tim Luckcock: I am glad you mentioned her, Brother Hajj Ahmad, having come across her a couple of years ago but never wading into her depths. I just read her health warning for her book, “The Real Christ”. This is indeed what I was getting at.
Brother David W Roesler: My own perception of Christ is he is separate from the Godhead. He is the culmination of the fall. Many religious scholars believe that the Creator Made our universe as the playpen for a fallen being to metamorphosis into a higher form. The original fallen being’s essence is scattered in mankind’s souls, each one representing a broken shard of the parent being. These broken ill-made shards are here to experience life and its turmoil and tragedy so that the higher fallen self can learn and change.
When Jesus (a.s.) was asked who he was, he did not say he was the Son of God; he said he was the Son of Man. The culmination of metamorphosis our higher perfected self, the repaired vessel that we can reunite with if we submit to it by losing sense of self. In so doing, we can be free of this plain of existence and ascend to a higher plain. The object of changing this flawed fallen being into a higher being, some scholars believe, is to become the companion of the Creator or one of Its perfected creations. The Jewish theological figure of the Metatron, the Angel of the Presence, is one version of the fallen primal being that is an example of the sleeping God found in many belief systems. His dreams are us as he goes through metamorphosis.
The Metatron fell because he would not set aside his ego for his marriage to Lilith. His pride would not allow him to admit she was equal or superior to him. This scenario is also played out in the story of Adam and Lilith’s marriage. Adam and the Metatron’s story are different versions of the same tale. Later, Lucifer evolved into yet another version of the same figure only this time a demonised version. Another version of this sleeping god can be found in Indian theology. Shiva the Destroyer falls asleep after the loss of his beloved Parvati. He strives to become a higher form worthy of her through his dreams which are us.
Brother Tim Luckcock: “Advanced” is merely a rhetorical device to provoke a rethink, Brother Miles. Do not most Muslims have a kind of superiority complex in judging the inferiority of other People of the Book? Conventionally, Islam has a narrative with an implicit history of religion which privileges its own superiority. Historically the Trinity has been a site of contention between Christianity and Islam, but I am asking if it need be?
Brother Khalid Yaqub: Trinitarian dogma, read symbolically, is plausibly harmless. However, when mixed up with blood atonement and anthropomorphism, it clearly becomes problematic.
Brother Tim Luckcock: Yes, I am not seeking to defend dogma per se but I am asking about the metaphysical significance of three in a way which explores common mystical ground, Brother Khalid.
Brother David W Roesler: I think the Creator is separate from the Trinity. The Trinity is about us, our different parts, and aspects not the primal force. We think we are individuals but what if we are only parts of something much bigger than we can possibly imagine? Knowing God is an almost impossible task but finding out who we really are is easier since we have our inner selves to explore. Know yourself and you know everything.
Brother Tim Luckcock: Abdul Hameed Almaas would probably agree, Brother David, as might be surmised from Facets of Unity, the Enneagram of Holy Ideas which interestingly is directly informed by the Trinity of one Divine perspective, two cosmological function, and three human function within our range of “normal” consciousness.
Brother Hajj Ahmad: A good deal of Almaas is worth reading, Brother Tim. There is no one current today who has synthesised spirituality with post-Freudian psychology like Almaas. And it is hardly wise to throw out the recent understandings of “Depth Psychology” and “Object Relations” as non-Islamic if one truly wishes to understand the specifics of the machinations of the ego-self which is the obstacle to true unitive perception. This one is a short, good read, but do not expect to agree with all of it. Almaas is limited in his knowledge of Sufism and Islam.
Brother Tim Luckcock: I also dip into Fr. Raimon Panikkar Alemany everyone so often on The Cosmotheandric Experience.
Brother Khalid Yaqub: No one has posted this yet: Professor Timothy Winter’s Islamic Perspective on the Trinity. The relevant point is that the trinity is not really necessary by the Bible’s own standards.
Brother Tim Luckcock: Thanks. I listened to that a while ago and broadly agree with his reflection but not the implication that trinitarianism is inherently deviant because it is not biblical. For me, there is a thin line between the mystical and the philosophical which Shaykh ‘Abd al-Hakim Murad Timothy John Winter did not foreclose. Indeed, I liked the way he brought in radical Christian movements and unorthodox theologians as exemplars of the fact that a dogma should not prevent critical and creative thinking.