The more I study Trinitarian theology from a patristic perspective the more I am impressed with the precise descriptions given to us from these great theologians. In previous years it has been difficult for me to wrestle with the doctrine of the Trinity through the lens of what is commonly called “social Trinitarianism”. I confess this is probably because I had departed from a modalistic background so it seemed that social Trinitarianism was much too far a pendulum swing.  In my ears I could only hear accusations of Tritheism. This model depicts God as three persons in one substance that seems to indicate that there are three separate, distinct wills, minds, and sources of actions that always act in perfect unity. While this model admittedly emphasizes the “threeness” of God it postulates that this does not endanger the oneness because the Father, Son, and Spirit never do anything in disunity.

While it may be a possible model for understanding the Trinity it is not the model I read in most of the Greek Fathers. Gregory of Nyssa says, “Every operation which extends from God to the creation…has its origin from the Father, and proceeds through the Son, and is perfected in the Holy Spirit” and “The Holy Trinity fulfills every operation in a manner…not by separate action according to the number of Persons, but so that there is one motion and disposition of good will which is communicated from the Father through the Son to the Spirit (On Not Three Gods, 5.334). Likewise, Athanasius repeats over and over again in Letters to Serapion on the Holy Spirit that all actions of God come from the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. There is a sense in which the one action of the one God is perfected by performance shared by three persons.

It seems to me that this model of divine action is more biblically coherent than the social Trinitarian model. It does not seem that the Fathers were willing to depart from their monotheistic roots in such a way, even if this resulted in some accusations of Sabellianism (which it is clearly not as one who has been part of such a movement). For those who adopt a more social Trinitarian approach it would be great to hear why you think this model works better.