Original Research - Special Collection: Trinity

Trinity – Simply: These three are one

Abraham van de Beek
Verbum et Ecclesia | Vol 43, No 1 | a2679 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v43i1.2679 | © 2022 Abraham van de Beek | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 08 August 2022 | Published: 20 December 2022

About the author(s)

Abraham van de Beek, Department of Systematic Theology, Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa


Trinity has been one of the core topics of theology during the last half century. Especially, the idea of a social Trinity has been promoted by leading theologians. This interpretation of the Trinity is often related to the theology of the Cappadocian fathers at the end of the 4th century, in contrast to the individualistic trinitarian discourse of Augustine, the father of Western theology. It appears that this theory is an untenable construct. The first leading theologian who developed the concept of the social Trinity, Jürgen Moltmann, did not relate it to the Cappadocians but to Augustine. It was especially John Zizioulas who promoted Cappadocian trinitarian theology as a base for social relations. By doing so, he not only neglected the social interpretation of Augustine by Moltmann but also disregarded the fundamentally apophatic character of Cappadocian theology. The discourse of the Cappadocians is about the way God is different from human beings, and its focus is not on relations of persons but about mutual indwelling of divine expressions of being. A social Trinity could rather be related to the African Tertullian. However, finally, the Trinity is not more than a formula for telling that the Father, the Son and the Spirit are real persons, and really one, as well. It is a formula of God talk, which serves worship and Christian life, and has no analogy in human beings or relations, as Hilary of Poitiers argued. This conclusion returns the doctrine of the Trinity to its basic meaning within the discourse on God. It has its own stance, and it should not be burdened by speculations on desired human relations.

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: For the discipline of systematic theology the conclusion of this paper implies that the doctrine of the Trinity should not be mirrored in theological anthropology but should be restricted to the discourse on God. This will challenge theological anthropology to be developed from another perspective, with a clearer distinction of Creator and creation.


Trinity; social Trinity; Cappadocian theology; Augustine; Hilary of Poitiers.

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