I SUPPOSE that of all Christian dogmas, the doctrine of the Trinity enjoys the greatest reputation for obscurity and remoteness from common experience. Whether the theologian extols it as the splendor of the light invisible or the skeptic derides it as a horror of great darkness, there is a general conspiracy to assume that its effect upon those who contemplate it is blindness, either by absence or excess of light.
There is some truth in the assumption, but there is also a great deal of exaggeration. God is mysterious, and so (for that matter) is the universe and one’s fellow-man and one’s self and the snail on the garden-path; but none of these is so mysterious as to correspond to nothing within human knowledge. There are, of course, some minds that cultivate mystery for mystery’s sake: with these, St. Augustine of Hippo, who was no obscurantist, deals firmly:
Holy Scripture, which suits itself to babes, has not avoided words drawn from any class of things really existing, through which, as by nourishment, our understanding might rise gradually to things divine and transcendent… . But it has drawn no words whatever, whereby to frame either figures of speech or enigmatic sayings, from things which do not exist at all. And hence it is that those who [ in disputing about God strive to transcend the whole creation] are more mischievously and emptily vain than their fellows; in that they surmise concerning God, what can neither be found in Himself nor in any creature.’
St. Augustine, On the Trinity, Book 1 Chapter 1
He proceeds, in his great treatise, to expound the doctrine analogically, using again and again the appeal to experience. He says in effect: “a Trinitarian structure of being is not a thing incomprehensible or unfamiliar to you; you know of many such within the created universe.
There is a trinity of sight, for example: the form seen, the act of vision, and the mental attention which correlates the two. These three, though separable in theory, are inseparably present whenever you use your sight. Again, every thought is an inseparable trinity of memory, understanding, and will. [cf. Eddington, Philosophy of Physical Science: "Still less is a single sensation strictly separable from the environment of emotion, memory and intellectual activity in which it occurs; nor is it strictly separable from the volition which directs attention to it and the thought which embodies sapient knowledge of it."] This is a fact of which you are quite aware; it is not the concept of a trinity-in-unity that in itself presents any insuperable difficulty to the human imagination.”
We may perhaps go so far as to assert that the Trinitarian structure of activity is mysterious to us just because it is universal — rather as the four-dimensional structure of space-time is mysterious because we cannot get outside it to look at it. The mathematician can, however, to some extent perform the intellectual feat of observing space-time from without, and we may similarly call upon the creative artist to extricate himself from his own activity far enough to examine and describe its threefold structure.
For the purpose of this examination I shall use the mind of the creative writer, both because I am more familiar with its workings than with those of other creative artists, and because I shall thus save the confusion of a great many clauses beginning with “and” and “or.” But, mutatis mutandis[Vocab: Mutatis mutandis is a Latin phrase meaning "changing [only] those things which need to be changed” or more simply “[only] the necessary changes having been made”.], what is true of the writer is true also of the painter, the musician and all workers of creative imagination in whatever form.
“The writer” is of course understood to be the ideal writer, considered when engaged in an act of artistic creation, just as, in considering the “father” we always intend the ideal parent, considered while exercising the functions of parenthood and in no other activity. It is not to be imagined that any human writer ever works with ideal perfection; in the tenth chapter of this book I shall try to point out what happens when the writer’s trinity fails too conspicuously to conform to the law of its own nature — for here, as always, there is a judgment for behavior that runs counter to the law.
Since this chapter — and indeed this whole book — is an expansion of the concluding speech of St. Michael in my play The Zeal of Thy House, it will perhaps be convenient to quote that speech here:
For every work [or act] of creation is threefold, an earthly trinity to match the heavenly.
First, [not in time, but merely in order of enumeration] there is the Creative Idea, passionless, timeless, beholding the whole work complete at once, the end in the beginning: and this is the image of the Father.
Second, there is the Creative Energy [or Activity] begotten of that idea, working in time from the beginning to the end, with sweat and passion, being incarnate in the bonds of matter: and this is the image of the Word.
Third, there is the Creative Power, the meaning of the work and its response in the lively soul: and this is the image of the indwelling Spirit. And these three are one, each equally in itself the whole work, whereof none can exist without other: and this is the image of the Trinity.
Of these clauses, the one which gives the most trouble to the hearer is that dealing with the Creative Idea. (The word is here used, not in the philosopher’s sense, in which the “Idea” tends to be equated with the “Word,” but quite simply in the sense intended by the writer when he says: “I have an idea for a book.” [Similarly, of course, "Energy" is not to be understood in the physicist's technical sense (e.g., Mass X Acceleration X Distance), or "Power" in the engineer's sense (e.g., applied force); both these words are used in the sense intended by the poet and the common man.]
The ordinary man is apt to say: “I thought you began by collecting material and working out the plot.” The confusion here is not merely over the words “first” and “begin.” In fact the “Idea” — or rather the writer’s realization of his own idea — does precede any mental or physical work upon the materials or on the course of the story within a time-series. But apart from this, the very formulation of the Idea in the writer’s mind is not the Idea itself, but its self-awareness in the Energy.
Everything that is conscious, everything that has to do with form and time, and everything that has to do with process, belongs to the working of the Energy or Activity or “Word.” The Idea, that is, cannot be said to precede the Energy in time, because (so far as that act of creation is concerned) it is the Energy that creates the time-process. This is the analogy of the theological expressions that “the Word was in the beginning with God” and was “eternally begotten of the Father.” If, that is, the act has a beginning in time at all, it is because of the presence of the Energy or Activity. The writer cannot even be conscious of his Idea except by the working of the Energy which formulates it to himself.
That being so, how can we know that the Idea itself has any real existence apart from the Energy? Very strangely; by the fact that the Energy itself is conscious of referring all its acts to an existing and complete whole. In theological terms, the Son does the will of the Father. Quite simply, every choice of an episode, or a phrase. or a word is made to conform to a pattern of the entire book, which is revealed by that choice as already existing.
This truth, which is difficult to convey in explanation, is quite clear and obvious in experience. It manifests itself plainly enough when the writer says or thinks: “That is, or is not, the right phrase” — meaning that it is a phrase which does or does not correspond to the reality of the Idea.
Further, although the book — that is, the activity of writing the book — is a process in space and time, it is known to the writer as also a complete and timeless whole, “the end in the beginning,” and this knowledge of it is with him always, while writing it and after it is finished, just as it was at the beginning. It is not changed or affected by the toils and troubles of composition, nor is the writer aware of his book as merely a succession of words and situations.
The Idea of the book is a thing-in-itself quite apart from its awareness or its manifestation in Energy, though it still remains true that it cannot be known as a thing-in-itself except as the Energy reveals it. The Idea is thus timeless and without parts or passions, though it is never seen, either by writer or reader, except in terms of time, parts and passion.
The Energy itself is an easier concept to grasp, because it is the thing of which the writer is conscious and which the reader can see when it is manifest in material form. It is dynamic — the sum and process of all the activity which brings the book into temporal and spatial existence. “All things are made by it, and without it nothing is made that has been made.” To it belongs everything that can be included under the word “passion” — feeling, thought, toil, trouble, difficulty, choice, triumph — all the accidents which attend a manifestation in time.
It is the Energy that is the creator in the sense in which the common man understands the word, because it brings about an expression in temporal form of the eternal and immutable Idea. It is, for the writer, what he means by “the writing of the book,” and it includes, though it is not confined to, the manifestation of the book in material form. We shall have more to say about it in the following chapters: for the moment, the thing I am anxious to establish is that it is something distinct from the Idea itself, though it is the only thing that can make the Idea known to itself or to others, and yet is (in the ideal creative act which we are considering) essentially identical with the Idea — “consubstantial with the Father.”
The Creative Power is the third “Person” of the writer’s trinity. It is not the same thing as the Energy (which for greater clearness I ought perhaps to have called “the Activity”), though it proceeds from the Idea and the Energy together. It is the thing which flows back to the writer from his own activity and makes him as it were, the reader of his own book.
It is also, of course, the means by which the Activity is communicated to other readers and which produces a corresponding response in them. In fact, from the reader’s point of view, it is the book. By it, they perceive the book, both as a process in time and as an eternal whole, and react to it dynamically. It is at this point we begin to understand what St. Hilary means in saying of the Trinity: “Eternity is in the Father, form in the Image and use in the Gift.”
Lastly: “these three are one, each equally in itself the whole work, whereof none can exist without other.” If you were to ask a writer which is “the real book” — his Idea of it, his Activity in writing it, or its return to himself in Power, he would be at a loss to tell you, because these things are essentially inseparable. Each of them is the complete book separately; yet in the complete book all of them exist together. He can, by an act of the intellect, “distinguish the persons” but he cannot by any means “divide the substance.”
How could he? He cannot know the Idea, except by the Power interpreting his own Activity to him; he knows the Activity only as it reveals the Idea in Power; he knows the Power only as the revelation of the Idea in the Activity. All he can say is that these three are equally and eternally present in his own act of creation, and at every moment of it, whether or not the act ever becomes manifest in the form of a written and printed book. These things are not confined to the material manifestation: they exist in — they are — the creative mind itself.
I ought perhaps to emphasize this point a little. The whole complex relation that I have been trying to describe may remain entirely within the sphere of the imagination, and is there complete. The Trinity abides and works and is responsive to itself “in Heaven.” A writer may be heard to say: “My book is finished — I have only to write it”; or even, “My book is written — I have only to put it on paper.” The creative act, that is, does not depend for its fulfillment upon its manifestation in a material creation. The glib assertion that “God needs His creation as much as His creation needs Him” is not a true analogy from the mind of the human creator.
Nevertheless, it is true that the urgent desire of the creative mind is towards expression in material form. The writer, in writing his book on paper, is expressing the freedom of his own nature in accordance with the law of his being; and we argue from this that material creation expresses the nature of the Divine Imagination. We may perhaps say that creation in some form or another is necessary to the nature of God; what we cannot say is that this or any particular form of creation is necessary to Him. It is in His mind, complete, whether He writes it down or not.
To say that God depends on His creation as a poet depends on his written poem is an abuse of metaphor: the poet does nothing of the sort. To write the poem (or, of course, to give it material form in speech or song), is an act of love towards the poet’s own imaginative act and towards his fellow-beings. It is a social act; but the poet is, first and foremost, his own society, and would be none the less a poet if the means of material expression were refused by him or denied him.
I have used in this chapter, and shall use again, expressions which to persons brought up in “scientific” habits of thought may seem to be out-moded. Scientists are growing more and more chary of using any forms of speech at all. Words like “idea,” “matter,” “existence,” and their derivatives have become suspect. “Old truths have to be abandoned, general terms of everyday use which we thought to be the keys to understanding will now no longer fit the lock. Evolution, yes, but be very careful with it, for the concept is slightly rusty.
Elements … their immutability no longer exists. Causation … on the whole there is little one can do with the concept; it breaks at the slightest usage. Natural laws … certainly, but better not talk too much of absolute validity. Objectivity … it is still our duty as well as our ideal, but its perfect realization is not possible, at least not for the social sciences and the humanities.” [Huizinga: In the Shadow of Tomorrow]
This difficulty which confronts the scientists and has compelled their flight into formulae is the result of a failure to understand or accept the analogical nature of language. Men of science spend much time and effort in the attempt to disentangle words from their metaphorical and traditional associations; the attempt is bound to prove vain since it runs counter to the law of humanity.’
The confusion and difficulty are increased by the modern world’s preoccupation with the concept of progress. This concept — now rapidly becoming as precarious as those others quoted by Huizinga — imposes upon the human mind two (in the hypnotic sense) “suggestions.” The first is that any invention or creative act will necessarily tend to supersede an act of earlier date. This may be true of mechanical inventions and scientific formulae:
We may say, for example, that the power-loom has superseded the hand-loom, or that Einsteinian physics has superseded Newtonian physics, and mean something by saying so. But there is no sense whatever in which we can say that Hamlet has “superseded” the Agamemnon, or that
you who were with me in the ships at Mylae
en la sua voluntade e nostra pace
tendebantque mantis ripae ulterioris amore.
The later in date leaves the earlier achievement unconquered and unchanged; that which was at the summit remains at the summit until the end of time.
The second suggestion is that, once an invention has been brought into being and made public by a creative act, the whole level of human understanding is raised to the level of that inventiveness. This is not true, even within its own sphere of application. The fact that every schoolboy can now use logarithms does not lift him to the intellectual level of the brain that first imagined the method of logarithmic calculation.
But the absurdity of the suggestion becomes glaringly obvious when we consider the arts. If a ruthless education in Shakespeare’s language could produce a nation of Shakespeares, every Englishman would at this moment be a dramatic genius. Actually, all that such an education can possibly do is to improve a little the general apparatus of linguistic machinery and so make the way smooth for the appearance of the still rare, still incalculable genius. Genius is, in fact, not subject to the “law” of progress, and it is beginning to be extremely doubtful whether progress is a “law” at all.
For these reasons, we need not allow ourselves to be abashed by any suggestion that the old metaphors are out of date and ought to be superseded. We have only to remember that they are, and always were, metaphors, and that they are still “living” metaphors so long as we use them to interpret direct experience. Metaphors become dead only when the metaphor is substituted for the experience, and the argument carried on in a sphere of abstraction without being at every point related to life.
In the metaphors used by the Christian creeds about the mind of the maker, the creative artist can recognize a true relation to his own experience; and it is his business to record the fact of that recognition in any further metaphor that the reader may understand and apply.