Essay / Misc.

Beauty of the Trinity

Cleves trin 1 The Trinity is beautiful.

By common consent, great is the beauty of holiness. God himself is that beauty than which nothing greater can be desired, to give Anselm’s “maximal being theology” an aesthetic spin. Because God, unlike creatures, is not compounded of separable parts, he does not have a beauty with which to be beautified. Rather God simply is the beauty which he has.

In the words of Jonathan Edwards, God is “the foundation and fountain of all being and all beauty…of whom, and through whom, and to whom is all being and all perfection.” Edwards even argues that “the true notion of divinity” is that “God is God, and distinguished from all other beings, and exalted above ’em, chiefly by his divine beauty, which is infinitely diverse from all other beauty.”

In other words, rather than there being some general standard of beauty by which we could evaluate God to ascertain whether he measures up to it, there is a particular unsurpassable divine beauty. According to Karl Barth, the confession that “God is beautiful” means that God has a “power of attraction, which speaks for itself,” and that he has this power not as brute force but “in the fact that He is beautiful, divinely beautiful, beautiful in His own way, in a way that is His alone, beautiful as the unattainable primal beauty, yet truly beautiful.”

The beauty peculiar to the Christian God is grounded in his unique being, his distinctive life, and his identifiable character. But God’s being is a being in consubstantiality among three persons; his life is the one life together of Father, Son, and Spirit; and his character is made known definitively in the sending of the Son of God into the world in the fullness of time, and the sending of the Spirit of the Son into the hearts of the redeemed, crying “Abba, Father.”

Therefore in the one divine essence, in the three divine persons, and in the economy of salvation, it is as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit that God is beautiful. Thus, to call once more on the two witnesses, Karl Barth went on to say, “The triunity of God is the secret of his beauty,” while Edwards testified that “God has appeared glorious to me, on account of the Trinity… It has made me have exalting thoughts of God, that he subsists in three persons; Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

The painting of the Trinity that I used to illustrate this post is not so beautiful. Whatever God looks like, he doesn’t look like that. The only possible value of the painting, or the many like it which can be found throughout the history of Christian art, is that it calls the actual triune God to mind, and recalls to us the actual beauty of the invisible God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

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