Today is Trinity Sunday and Father’s Day. And the pastor explained the Trinity using the same modalist model that he used a few years ago (see here): in the same way that a father can be one person with three different roles—-father, grandfather, and son—-so likewise is God one person with three different roles, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our liturgy also said that God revealed himself in three separate ways, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
As I wrote a few years ago, my church is Presbyterian, so it most likely believes that the Godhead contains three persons, as opposed to being one person who performs three roles. Maybe my pastor understands what he’s saying differently from how I am understanding him. That happens.
During church today, I was thinking about what Karen Armstrong says about the Cappadocian fathers in her book, A History of God. I just now looked at the pages in which she discusses their understanding of the Trinity, on pages 115-117. She focuses on Gregory of Nyssa. According to her, Gregory of Nyssa believed that God is one, but that God manifests Godself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and we experience God in those ways: we experience the Father as transcendent, the Son as creative, and the Holy Spirit as immanent. The one God’s very essence, however, is “unnameable and unspeakable” (Gregory’s words, according to whatever translation Karen Armstrong is using). The Trinity is how God reveals himself to us, not how God truly is in terms of his essence.
That doesn’t sound too different from what my pastor and the church’s liturgy were saying: there is one God, who manifests himself, and whom we experience, in three separate ways. But I doubt that the Cappadocians were modalists. How were they different from modalists, then? And is Karen Armstrong conceptualizing Gregory of Nyssa’s position correctly?