The Trinity and Paganism in our Christianity by Arthur Weigall
See also The Pagan Origin of the Trinity - 60 Books on CDrom
SPIRITUAL thought must always remain outside the scope of precise investigation, and beyond the ordinary forms of expression. It is, for instance, quite useless for any man to attempt to prove by logic that there is a God; for if the matter be submitted even to the medium of words it will at once acquire a substantiality, a grossness, which it does not actually possess. And if we postulate that there is a God, the same difficulty presents itself in defining His nature. One would merely laugh if a group of aboriginal savages were to cease for a little the banging of their tomtoms in order to discuss the music of Wagner; and there is something even more ludicrous in the spectacle of a council of early Christian bishops of very limited outlook discussing the nature of Almighty God Himself-admittedly incomprehensible and arriving at rigid conclusions to wbich we are still expected to adhere.
To-day, as Christians, we recognise a Trinity, that is to say, Three Persons in one God; but to the modern critical mind that definition can be no more than an expedient. God certainly is neither One Person nor Three Persons in the sense in which we are accustomed to understand the word 'Person'; for He is a formless and limitless spirit. He has no position nor place in space or time; for He is Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, an essence permeating all things and all times. If you suppose Him to be an enormous Force which holds the world, you will find it hard not to introduce purely material qualities into your mental conception, such as bigness and gravity-one might almost say mileage and avoirdupois. He is not a king or a ruler in any sense which we can understand, for the idea of one individual governing other individuals is a conception peculiar to human and animal life, and probably does not exist in the spiritual world. Our human senses and range of thought can in no way provide any idea of that comprehensive grasp of all things which is His. It is, indeed, derogatory to speak of the divine Being as 'He' or 'Him'; for there is an indication of sex in the word, and in the spiritual sphere there is no such thing.
God, in fact, as the scriptures say, is a Spirit, an omnipresent, omnipotent, omnipercipient All-in- All, completely incomprehensible to the mere reason, but in some degree intelligible to spiritual thought which has detached itself from material concepts. It is really quite vain, therefore, to exercise the mind as to whether He is Three in One, or Many in One, or simply One. He transcends numbers, eludes intellectual divisions or unifications, and rises as far above the definitions implied in Polytheism or Monotheism as infinity is above finiteness. In a spiritual sense He is Everything, He is the Whole; and therefore He can be no more than One, and no less than all the possible fractions of One. He is personal inasmuch as He pervades each one of us; and He is impersonal inasmuch as he pervades everything. Being beyond human ideas of bulk, and outside our three-dimensional conception of position, He might as well be said to be contained in the smallest point in space as in the largest range of it; for bigness and smallness have no meaning in spiritual thought. All that the critic cares to say, in fact, is that He is timeless, formless, unlimited by space, position, size, number, or any other material consideration; and that He is at once the Whole and all the fractions, aspects, and parts of that Whole.
The idea of a co-equal Trinity, however, offers a reasonable means of expressing the inexpressible; but it must not be forgotten that Jesus Christ never mentioned such a phenomenon, and nowhere in the New Testament does the word 'Trinity' appear. The idea was only adopted by the Church three hundred years after the death of our Lord; and the origin of the conception is entirely pagan.
In the Fourth Century B.C. Aristotle wrote: "All things are three, and thrice is all: and let us use this number in the worship of the gods; for, as the Pythagoreans say, everything and all things are bounded by threes, for the end, the middle, and the beginning have this number in everything, and these compose the number of the Trinity." The Ancient Egyptians, whose influence on early religious thought was profound, usually arranged their gods or goddesses in trinities: there was the trinity of Osiris, Isis, and Horus, the trinity of Amen, Mut, and Khonsu, the trinity of Khnum, Satis, and Anukis, and so forth.
The Hindu trinity of Brahman, Siva, and Vishnu is another of the many and widespread instances of this theological conception. The early Christians, however, did not at first think of applying the idea to their own faith. They paid their devotions to God the Father and to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and they recognised the mysterious and undefined existence of the Holy Spirit; but there was no thought of these three being an actual Trinity, co-equal and united in One, and the Apostles Creed, which is the earliest of the formulated articles of Christian faith, does not mention it.
The application of this old pagan conception of a Trinity to Christian theology was made possible by the recognition of the Holy Spirit as the required third 'Person,' co-equal with the other 'Persons.' The idea of the Holy Spirit, as an emanation from God, had been known to the Jews from early times; but the Hebrew word which was used was ruach, literally meaning 'wind' or 'breath,' this being translated into Greek as pneuma, which has precisely that significance, the action of the Spirit being described theologically as 'pneumatic.' Thus, in the Book of Genesis, where it is related that God breathed into Adam's nostrils the breath of life, the reference is to this Spirit, which had also "moved upon the face of the waters "in the earlier act of creation; and Job speaks of the Spirit of God as being in his nostrils, and says: "The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life."
This conception of the Holy Spirit as the wind, or breath, of life is found in other ancient religions, and is clearly revealed in the prayer to the god Aton inscribed on the coffin of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhnaton (1370 B.C.), which reads: "I breathe the sweet breath which comes forth from thy mouth. . . . It is my desire that I may hear thy sweet voice, the wind, that my limbs may be rejuvenated with life through love of thee. Extend to me thy hands holding thy Spirit (Ka), that I may receive it and may live by it."
The Gospels are unanimous in attributing to Jesus various references to the Holy Spirit; but it is only in the Gospel of St. John, which in the earliest times was not regarded as authoritative, that our Lord gives a kind of personality to this Spirit by speaking of the Comforter who is to come down to His disciples. The conception, however, was familiar to the first Christians, for St. Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit which "searcheth all things, yea, even the depths of God"; and he commends his readers to " the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost. "The baptising of Christians in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, seems to have been usual, too, in very early days; but the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost (the Jewish festival fifty days after the Passover) reverts to the earlier conception of the Spirit as 'wind' or 'breath,' for it is described as arriving like "a rushing mighty wind."
Nevertheless, whether it was understood to be the divine 'breath of life,' or to be a personal agent of God, distinct from the Logos, the idea of the Spirit being co-equal with God was not generally recognised until the second half of the Fourth Century A.D. The school of Arius held the view that the Son was created by the Father and had not always been co-eternal with Him; and this led to the opposing party not only emphasising the equality of the Father and Son (just as Mithra in the great rival religion, Mithraism, was both son of Ormuzd, the Creator, and at the same time coequal with him), but also emphasising the coequality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son.
In the year 381 the Council of Constantinople added to the earlier Nicene Creed a description of the Holy Spirit as "the Lord, and giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and Son together is worshipped and glorified." But the great opponent of the Arians was Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria in Egypt; and, as has been said above, the Egyptian religion, which had not yet died out, was permeated with the idea of trinities. Thus, the Athanasian creed, which is a later composition but reflects the general conceptions of Athanasius and his school, formulated the conception of a co-equal Trinity wherein the Holy Spirit was the third 'Person'; and so it was made a dogma of the faith, and belief in the Three in One and One in Three: became a paramount doctrine of Christianity, though not without terrible riots and bloodshed.
Now, in the Constantinople creed the Holy Spirit was said to proceed from the Father, but at the Synod of Toledo in 589 the famous filioque was added, making the sentence read: "who proceedeth from the Father and the Son," as the Church of England has it in the Communion Service in the Prayer Book to-day. But this raised a furious storm, and became one of the chief reasons of the break between the Churches of the West and East, the latter beheving that the Spirit emanated from the Father only.
The modern mind has outgrown this splitting of hairs; and as the conception of divinity expands and develops, the desire to define the godhead fades. To-day a Christian thinker recognises the three aspects of divinity-the Father, the Son or Logos, and the Holy Spirit, and finds no cause to repudiate the idea of such a Trinity; but at the same time he has no wish to be precise about it, more especially since the definition is obviously pagan in origin and was not adopted by the Church until nearly three hundred years after Christ.
For a list of all of my disks, with links click here