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Trinity

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The doctrine of the Trinity of God as three distinct “persons” sharing a common nature: God the Father, *Christ the Son, and the *Holy Spirit (Matthew 25: 19) was developed in the early Christian period and formed a topic of discussion and refinement through the Middle Ages, especially for authors such as Saints *Augustine, *Gregory the Great, and *Thomas Aquinas. The relationship of the three persons of the Trinity was also an issue of major dispute between the western and Byzantine churches and resulted (with other causes) in their formal separation in the Eleventh century.

The pictorialization of this fundamental Christian dogma was handled in a variety of symbolic images and compositions. The earliest examples show experimentation with a number of formulae: early sarcophagi may show three men, three sheep , or a combination of symbolic devices such as the hand of God, the dove of the Holy Spirit, and a cross-bearing lamb (all of which appear separately or combined in other media as well.) The early fifth-century mosaics of Santa Maria Maggiore imply the Trinity as the Throne of God upon which is placed a *cross and triumphal wreath; the dove is also included in later western and Byzantine examples.

Christian theologians saw a prefiguration of the Trinity in the three heavenly visitors whom *Abraham hosted; hence, illustrations of this scene may give *haloes to the three men, or one of the visitors will be shown enclosed in a mandorla. This “Old Testament Trinity” (of three seated, identical figures) provided inspiration for some later medieval and Byzantine representations. However, the distinction between the three different aspects of the Trinity is also early represented in scenes of the *Baptism of Jesus where, in examples from at least the sixth century onward, both the hand of God and the dove of the Holy Spirit will hover over Jesus.

Page 252 The pictorial themes and symbols developed in the early Christian period were retained, modified, and transformed during the Middle Ages. The Trinity may be shown as two seated men with cruciform haloes, who may hold books inscribed with the Greek letters alpha and omega (the beginning and the end); each man may hold up a hand in *benediction, and a dove may hover above or between them. In Gothic manuscripts and sculpture, the Trinity (as two figures and the dove) may be shown in scenes of the *Coronation of the Virgin, and, in scenes of the *Crucifixion from the twelfth century onward, the Trinity may be indicated by the figure of God the Father standing or seated behind and supporting the *cross while the dove hovers overhead. This image, known as the “Throne of Grace,” also became a popular subject for free-standing devotional sculptures, especially in the later medieval period.

Trotter, James Monroe(1842–1892) - Soldier, music historian, writer, Civil War Soldier, Chronology, Works in Boston Post Office [next] [back] Trilogy of Terror

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