Zeitschrift für Spiritualität und Transzendentale Psychologie 2012, 2 (1) /
Journal for Spirituality and Transcendental Psychology 2012, 2 (1)

Adoring the Holy Trinity by a pictorial language:

The ways and manners in which the Christians of the early centuries expressed their faith in the Triune God - Part 1

Nikolaos Garagounis



The article presents a survey over the early (2nd to 6th century) representations of the Holy Trinity in pictorial form in relation to its debate in sermon and theological writing.

Keywords: Christian theology, trinity, history of dogma, sacred art



Der Artikel gibt einen Überblick über die Geschichte der Trinität in bildlicher Form im Vergleich mit seiner Diskussion in Predigt und theologischem
Schrifttum während der frühen christlichen Jahrhunderte (2.-6 Jahrhundert.).

Schlüsselwörter: Christliche Theologie, Trinität, Dogmengeschichte, sakrale Kunst



It is very interesting to observe that although the belief in the Trinitarian Godhead constitutes the fundamental basis of the Christian faith, there is yet, only one sole passage where the bible explicitly speaks of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit[1]. Indeed, it is interesting to observe in this context that for the particular case of the Holy Spirit, even if strong insinuations are made in that sense, the biblical scriptures avoid to refer to this as divine openly. This reluctance seems to have had been principally due to the fact that first the evangelists and the apostles and later the great Christian authors and apologists of the apostolic and patristic period felt that hereby they might risk making open assumptions about the substance of God’s deity, something that according to the norms of the Old Testament[2] equalled the greatest blasphemy. For this reason, in absence of any adequate theological vocabulary (indeed such a terminology in reference to the Holy Spirit in its feature as the third divine person of the Trinity will only begin to evolve after the 360’s) the Christian believers preferred to express their faith into the Trinitarian Godhead mainly through various paradigmatic images and analogies. It is also interesting to observe in this context that although during the period we are studying here (2nd to the early 6th century) we find a real thriving of the most various Trinitarian typologies in the Christian predication, there is, however, a quasi general absence of any religious icon that depicted the Holy Trinity as such. A paradox, that was mainly due to the fact that especially Latin Christian art did not know of any visible symbol by which the person of the Father could be validly characterised; and to the fact that many Christians continued until the 6th and even 7th century having doubts if Jesus on the cross represented really the second person of the Trinity, even if the bible affirmed Him to be the Son of God[3] and the first ecumenical council of Nicaea had officially affirmed the divine consubstantiality between Father and Son. (Therefore, except the representation of Augustine’s Trinitarian/ontological model by Michelangelo in the far 16th century, this paper is not going into any other artistic depiction of the Trinity). In conclusion, I want to indicate that the early formulations have to be interpreted as to express the particular relation between Son and Holy Spirit (Filioque/ Protofilioquist), as about this subject eastern and western Trinitarian perceptions will principally separate after the 9th century.

About the author:

Nikolaos Garagounis, Lic. theol., born in 1970, holds a degree in political sciences and psychology as well as in Catholic theology and hospital chaplaincy. Her lives as a theologists in Rom. Email: ngaragounis[at]yahoo.it.

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