May 20, 2019

Even St. Patrick Struggles to Explain the Trinity

In honor of St. Patrick, we present this bit from Lutheran Satire that is not designed so much to be a knock on St. Patrick as on any attempt to use analogies to “explain” the Trinity. It’s also an overdue apology to Irish snake farmers.

Good for a laugh — especially you’ve downed your third beer today.



  1. flatrocker says

    Brilliant. And pour me another Guinness.

  2. Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all 🙂

  3. Erin go bragh!

  4. As a physicist, I would actually have to disagree with their rebuttal of the water analogy–I don’t think they fully understand the analogy. At a particular pressure and temperature, water is simultaneously solid, liquid, and gas (known as the triple point, or critical point). It does not have a distinct, definite state or phase of matter. It is not saying it is 1/3 of each. It has nothing to do with water going into one distinct form or converting to another distinct form. If you look at the PT diagram (of any substance, in this case water), you will see that the separate phases all converge at that point.

    • That’s great, but I’m afraid your explanation would have bewildered St. Patrick.

      • Perhaps the two clever snake farmers would have eventually come to that realization 🙂

        Having said all that though, it doesn’t mean that the analogy is still flawed in some other way (I’m sure it is). There is still an element of mystery to it nonetheless–any attempt to explain that we have “mastered” our understanding of God, or think that we can simply paint Him into a corner somehow, is presumptuous. However, at least for now, it still exists as an analogy that leads me in the right direction in more deeply understanding Him.

    • David, your point is well taken concerning the triple point of any substance. However, the analogy still falls short because water, or any other simply physical substance, is not personal. A single substance taking on simultaneous forms is still modalism, as the cartoon explains. To have a true analogy of the Trinity, we would have to talk either about a person or about people, or both simultaneously. No thing has a tri-personal nature except for God, which is why all analogies finally do not work. The closest analogy we could approximate would be to have three different people somehow merge to become the same singular human being — that would be a human “trinity” (rather than a divine Trinity). I do think analogies are helpful to a degree, but like the cartoon also hints, at some point we ought to contemplate the Athanasian Creed and the Scriptural witness to the Triune nature of God on which it is based. We confess the Trinity because Jesus called God his “Father” and made a way for us to call God “Father” as well.

      • Joel–that is a good point about the breakdown being when stretched to talk about a “person” rather than a “thing.” I certainly have to keep that in mind. (And see my other response where I acknowledge the element of mystery to it still nonetheless). However, I would still argue that the analogy is not guilty of modalism, which suggests that one God has manifested Himself in three different forms throughout history, but not ‘at the same moment.’ The triple point is the point where all three exist ‘simultaneously.’ The ability to exist in three different forms, and the ability to exist in three different forms ‘simultaneously’ are two different arguments, with the former being easily refutable from a Christian standpoint.

  5. Fi jyst ffroeni cwrw gwyrdd allan o fy nhrwyn. (Yes, I know it is Welsh, but after all, Patrick was a slave from the “other” island.)

    Well, you can either use an analogy so that people can have some grasp of the subject, even if inaccurate, or you can insist that only trained Church theologians can understand and then you can be accused in the Reformation of withholding information and Scripture from the people. It is a lose-lose situation for the Church.

  6. Analogy is not proof but illustration.

    I’ll have a Smithwick’s, thank you.