Saturday, September 30, 2006

trinity (philosophising pt. 3)

this is not what i said i would talk about in my next philosophising post, but an idea came to me and you have to strike while the iron is hot... (if you want to catch up on what i've been raving about so far, the whole lot is here in pdf form)

one of the great mysteries about God is how the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) functions as one. it occured to me that if we could could grasp the idea that in God's mind "physical" water (for example) and "spiritual" water are the same thing, the Trinity would not be so hard to envisage. it is made up of something concrete and something spiritual, but it is all same thing "conceptually".

but i came across something else interesting last night. in the study of semiotics (the way words and their meanings function) there are normally two parts to a "word" - the "sign" (ie the concrete word), and the meaning (ie the concept or object that the sign has been attached to). there are all sorts of other aspects in semiotics that look at how the sign becomes attached to the concept or object, but that's too much of a diversion to discuss here.

semiotics is normally based on "dyadic" thinking (ie involves thinking about two elements). but as we have seen earlier, ultimately God often prefers odd numbers, eg ones and threes.

walker percy (a christian novelist and thinker) proposed a third essential element to the study of semiotics. that is, the mind, or rather soul, in which the connection is made between sign and meaning. he called the inclusion of this third element "the delta factor" (because if you draw it on paper it looks like a triangle).

i'm actually not wanting to discuss semiotics here. i'm wanting to discuss a possible way of looking at the Trinity based on percy's semiotic model. whenever i see something profound that has three elements, i always try and superimpose it over the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) to see if it reflects the relationship within the Trinity in any way and to see if it can help me understand the Trinity better.

in this case, percy's triadic structure seemed to have a rather interesting fit. supposing we lay his model over the Trinity. on one corner of his model we have the sign, on another corner the meaning (or "object"), and on the third corner, the element that connects the two.

the sign lines up rather neatly with Jesus, the son. Jesus is the concrete Word, the visible incarnation of God, so in that sense is rather like the sign - ie the visible word on the page.

the meaning (or "sense") lines up rather neatly with God the Father. he is the meaning of the Godhead (by Godhead, i mean the combined elements that make up God), the underlying "concept", the object, if you will, that "gives birth" to the word.

that leaves the third corner - that is, the thing that connects the two, and in our model that leaves the Holy Spirit. that would make the Holy Spirit a kind of glue that holds the Godhead together. robert inchausti in discussing percy's idea (in the book 'subversive orthodoxy') uses this phrase to discribe the third element: "a third 'player'... an invisible, immaterial 'coupler' that unites sign and sense". i have no idea whether percy or inchausti envisaged this similarity between percy's model and the Trinity - perhaps they did, in which case i'm getting excited about something that has already been thought of. but that description fits very nicely, i think, with a conception of the Holy Spirit.

the Holy Spirit is the element that holds Father and Son together. an element, interestingly, which Jesus gave to believers to unite them with God. percy also calls that third element in semiotics "the interpretor". which further bolsters the connection between the Trinity and his semiotic model, as Christian thought envisages the Holy Spirit as that which helps a person understand the mysteries of God.

now let's lay a third model over these two - the parts that make up a person (body, soul and spirit).

"body" overlays sign (word) and jesus (son), ie the concrete existence of the person. then i would say that "soul" overlays Father and meaning. the soul is that which makes us unique people - it is the concept and blueprint of who we are. "spirit" therefore overlays Holy Spirit. it holds body and soul together - it is the "lifeforce" (to use a word unfortunately laden with new age connotations) or the breath of God in us that gives us life - the connector between our parts. when the connector leaves, the body and soul are separated.

it is always exciting when you can overlay the parts of God to the parts of humankind, because it forms part of the meaning of God's phrase "let us make man in our own image". in a perfect, pre-fall state, a human would function internally (between their three parts) the way the Godhead does.

so, anyway, next time i plan to write about what i planned to write about last time: what it means creatively, here on earth now, to seek to work towards God's concept of unity given the nature of a world in division, and about the creative energy that exists in aiming towards this unity.

on the headphones: 'pepita' by calexico, from the album 'feast of wire'.

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