Saturday, October 06, 2018

Symmetrical or monarchical Trinitarianism?

According to Orthodox analytic theologian Dr. Beau Branson the right way to understand the Trinity is that the one true God is none other than the Father, although there are three divine persons. There is no triune God, no tripersonal God. In his view, this is the Eastern Orthodox understanding of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Dr. Branson also explains what he calls the doctrine of the monarchy of the Father, which in his view, is a key to correctly understanding the Trinity. He also explains what he calls “egalitarian” or “symmetrical” views on the Trinity, which he contrasts with “monarchical” views.

I'm not qualified to say if this is the Greek Orthodox paradigm in every particular, although elements of it certainly reflect the Nicene paradigm, as I understand it. Unwittingly, this confirms my preference for a symmetrical model of the Trinity rather than a monarchical model of the Trinity. The Nicene paradigm leaves a foothold for unitarianism. Although "not made" and "consubstantial" rule out Arianism, the Nicene paradigm is an incomplete response to the unitarian alternative. By saying there is no triune or tripersonal God, by saying that only the Father is the one true God, that paradigm still has a unitarian center of gravity. It tries to finesse monotheism by making the Father the source. The Son and Spirit are reduced to projections of the Father.

A while back I was walking at a cemetery. The entrance is a high brick wall with cast-iron gates. When open, the gates are perpendicular to the wall. As I was exiting the cemetery before sunset, I saw an interesting phenomenon. The direction of sunlight low on the western horizon, in relation to the gates, at right angles to the wall, made the gates cast a shadow on the wall, as if there was a second gate, flat against the wall. Of course, that was an optical illusion. The second gate was just a shadow. If you put a barrier between the sunlight and the cast-iron gate, the image would instantly vanish. Only the iron-gate has positive existence. A shadow is merely the absence of light at that spot. A patch of nothing that only exists by virtue of light (and some opaque object in-between). That's what Branson's Trinitarianism amounts to. 


  1. I'm always concerned when people start talking about the eternal nature of the relationship of the persons within the Trinity. It needs to be grounded on Scripture. And if not, I'm very wary. First, I'm not sure if we can get our head completely around it.

    1. There will undoubtedly be an ineluctable element of mystery, both in this life and the world to come.