In one sense the doctrine of the Trinity is our admission-- as beings created and finite, fallen and flawed-- that we simply cannot fully grasp all that God is. Was not Augustine right when he pointed to the limitations placed on our capacities, and their devastating impact on the theological enterprise? Si comprehendis, non est Deus. One human response to this has been to argue that, since we cannot possibly grasp the mystery of God, we might as well content ourselves by creating something rather more manageable. The human desire to understand is interlocked with the darker desire to dominate. those of us who have wrestled with the ideological program of modernity are uncomfortably aware of what Bruno Latour describes as "the double task of domination and emancipation." If we are to master something, such as the natural world, we must first understand it. What Augustine termed the "eros of the mind"-- meaning the sheer ecstatic delight of knowledge for its own sake-- thus easily decays and degenerates into something rather more sinister. Knowledge is acquired, not to delight in the Other, but to dominate it, forcing it to serve our needs and our ends.
The doctrine of the Trinity represents a chastened admission that we are unable to master God. As Thomas Aquinas pointed out in the thirteenth century, the theologian who tries to master God is rather in the position of Jacob wrestling with the angel at Peniel (Gen. 32:24); the theologian emerges from the event bruised and defeated, yet the wiser and better for the engagement. For Augustine, to "comprehend" was to intellectually subjugate something, to proclaim the victory of the human intellect over all that it surveys. Yet, Augustine was quite clear: we simply cannot comprehend God.
Writers sympathetic to the goals of the Enlightenment protest that such theological strategies are simply retreats into irrationalism. Yet it is important to pause and adjudicate this claim. The Enlightenment used the term "rational" in a triumphalist sense, often with a hidden meaning. Rational means what reason can account for, thus validating its own claim to mastery and autonomy. By designating what it could not master as "irrational," the Enlightenment sought to deflect attention from those aspects of reality-- including the vision of God-- that were clearly too much for human reason to cope with. Those areas of reality that reason could not conquer were not declared to lie beyond reason, but to be contrary to reason.
The Enlightenment now lies behind us, leaving us stranded as we seek to secure adequate criteria for knowledge, as opposed to mere opinion. With the long, lingering death of the cult of reason has come the rebirth of interest in the concept of mystery, understood in its proper sense as a matter of intellectual immensity, which our frail and finite human minds simply cannot grasp in its totality. In short, we are confronted with a mystery.
from Alister E. McGrath, "The Doctrine of the Trinity," in Timothy George (ed.) God the Holy Trinity: Reflections on Christian Faith and Practice (Grand Rapids; Baker Academic, 2006), pp. 20-21.
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)