Monty Python and the Trinity

Analogies for the Trinity often fall short. At some level, of course, all analogies fall short. Recently I heard the Trinity derogatorily referred to as a “three-headed monster”. My first reaction was that this was uncalled for and offensive, but upon further reflection I wondered if, behind the insult, there was some kernel of truth.

In “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” one of the knights of Camelot stumbles upon a three-headed knight. All sorts of ontological questions could be asked about this entity. Is it three persons or one person? Is it one ousia or three different ousia?

It seems to me that we could describe this three-headed knight as being three persons. They have three separate centers of consciousness and (unlike the Trinity) have different wills (they get into a disagreement amongst themselves while “brave” Sir Robin escapes).

But do they share the same ousia? I may not be qualified to say, but I tend to think that they do. Wikipedia (for what it’s worth) describes the Eastern Orthodox view of ousia to mean “all that subsist by itself and which has not its being in another.” The three persons appear to not subsist on their own, and it could be argued that since they are one organic entity they have their being in each other. It is doubtful that two of them would continue living if one of them died.

It may be just another imperfect analogy to the Trinity, but perhaps it will be useful in helping non-Trinitarians (and millions of Trinitarians who don’t understand their own doctrine) what the Trinity is.

Comments from Trinitarians are welcome.

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5 comments on “Monty Python and the Trinity

  1. Rameumptom says:

    This sounds more Modalistic, rather than Trinitarian. While they “subsist” in some ways as one, there is still the problem of three heads/upper bodies. This presumes a modalism that I believe most Trinitarians would reject.

    • James says:

      I understand Modalism to basically be three manifestations of the same person (hence it could be said that the Father died on the cross, or that Christ prayed to himself). I personally wouldn’t consider this to be an example of that.

  2. aquinas says:

    I think it is better to understand the Trinitarian formula as a solution to a series of problems that the early Church encountered as they struggled to make sense of the biblical data concerning God and Christ. This becomes more apparent when one considers the various viewpoints on God and Christ among the early Church. Clearly, scriptures refer to God as one, but also gives attributes of divinity to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Trinitarian formulation seeks to navigate through a minefield of heretical notions concerning God.

  3. aquinas says:

    So for example, to continue the line of thought, the reason something such as Modalism is heresy is because it doesn’t allow enough distinction between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In the language of the Athanasian Creed, it “confuses” the persons. It is clear this was the concern of the early Church. Incidentally, person here is a more theologically precise term of art than the vernacular “person” we might consider.

    However, on the other hand, if you give too much distinction among the persons to the extent that they are different or separate beings ontologically, then it “divides the substance.” This also needs the caveat that “substance” here is immaterial since, in the classical conception, God is immaterial, not material. Again, this is where the English translation tends to fail us.

    I think the real problem is the limits of analogy as a pedagogical instrument in these matters. Analogy may be used to teach the youth about theology but analogy is too limiting. I would argue that rather than analogy, one should understand the historical development of theology and the concerns of those involved in shaping these ideas. I believe this holds true for Mormon thought as well as a broader Christian thought.

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