Home Forums Re: What is the Trinity?

erin xxxx

I said earlier: “trinitarians in their explanations of God’s nature have redefined “persons” to mean something more like “facets of God’s personality.”

To which Chris Replies:

“You are right to point that out but it is not Trinitarians who have ‘redefined’ the word persons, it is the word ‘persons’ which has changed through the course of time to,mean what is does to us now. Furthermore the original words used and translated ‘persons’ were Latin and there is nearly always some nuances of meaning lost in translation. Perhaps the Latin scholars in Praize Forums can enlighten us on the matter.”

So, since you seemed to question my claim of redefinition I decided to dig up what I could about the word “person” and it’s relation to the trinity. Mostly because I enjoy knowing where words come from and partly to see how wrong or right I perhaps was.

First, I’d like to point out that the catechism of the RCC seems to me to admit that they did exactly what I said and redefined terms to explain the trinity. It says (with emphasis being mine):

251 In order to articulate the dogma of the Trinity, the Church had to develop her own terminology with the help of certain notions of philosophical origin: “substance”, “person” or “hypostasis”, “relation” and so on. In doing this, she did not submit the faith to human wisdom, but gave a new and unprecedented meaning to these terms, which from then on would be used to signify an ineffable mystery, “infinitely beyond all that we can humanly understand”.

252 The Church uses (I) the term “substance” (rendered also at times by “essence” or “nature”) to designate the divine being in its unity, (II) the term “person” or “hypostasis” to designate the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the real distinction among them, and (III) the term “relation” to designate the fact that their distinction lies in the relationship of each to the others.


However that wasn’t quite enough so I checked an online etymology dictionary on the word “person” and it said:

“c.1225, from O.Fr. persone “human being” (12c., Fr. personne), from L. persona “human being,” originally “character in a drama, mask,” possibly borrowed from Etruscan phersu “mask.” “


However when checking what other sources said about the trinity and it’s persons I don’t think they want to imply something closer to the original. For example–CARM says this about persons in relation to the trinity:

“God is a trinity of persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father is not the same person as the Son; the Son is not the same person as the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit is not the same person as Father. They are not three gods and not three beings. They are three distinct persons; yet, they are all the one God.”

“Neither is He one person who took three consecutive forms, i.e., the Father, became the Son, who became the Holy Spirit.”


Somehow, I’m not getting a “character in a drama, mask” feel from this. In fact, they seem to reject that idea. I suppose this is why they didn’t use avatar either.

Also, it was a greek word that was translated into a latin word and now for us into english.

did not exist until Tertullian (who eventually converted to Montanism) coined it as the Latin trinitas and also probably the formula Three Persons, One Substance as the Latin tres Personae, una Substantia itself from the Greek treis Hypostases, Homoousios in the early third century.


And according to Wikipedia “hypostasis” means:

hypostasis, from the Greek word ὑðüóôáóéò meaning foundation, base or that which stands behind


In any case, I’m not really convinced trinitarians were trying to use an etymologically older (and it’d have to be almost 800 years older) version of “person,” but rather they seemed to have redefined the word altogether. Anyhow, this is rather longer than I’m sure either of us wanted and so, I’ll go.


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