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It’s likely you have heard of the fidget spinner, the hottest toy craze of 2017. If your kids don’t already have one, and you haven’t seen them at the counter of every gas station and grocery store, a fidget spinner is a spinning toy with three paddle-shaped blades attached to a central core with a bearing. Squeeze the core, give the blades a flick and they spin. The three blades become one singular blur as they spin around.

Because of their popularity, some priests, teachers, and preachers have tried to use them as an analogy for the Holy Trinity. Memes on social media showing how the fidget spinner is like the Trinity are all over, like the following one:

But the fidget spinner isn’t just a bad analogy for the Holy Trinity, it is heretical.

Now, that may sound pretty zealous and “rigid” for a seemingly innocuous and accessible way to talk to kids about the Trinity. But bad analogies for the Trinity are everywhere, and they give people a false understanding of the nature of God.

Here’s the problem with the analogy of the fidget spinner: the three individual blades are not on their own a fidget spinner. Instead, they’re each just a part of a fidget spinner that when spun “seem” to become one. This analogy commits the same mistake as comparing God to an egg (shell, yolk, egg white).

But the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not “parts” of God. Each Person of the Trinity is fully God, not a 1/3 component that, when combined with others, becomes “God”. That falls into Partialism, Modalism, or Sabellianism.

The Eleventh Council of Toledo stated, ”The Father is that which the Son is, the Son that which the Father is, the Father and the Son that which the Holy Spirit is, i.e., by nature one God” (Council of Toledo XI (675): DS 530:26).

But people may say “What about Saint Patrick’s analogy of the Shamrock? How is that any different”. The truth is that Saint Patrick likely never used the Shamrock as an analogy.

The earliest written mention of Saint Patrick and the Shamrock comes from a 17th century haigiographical work called Acta Trias Thautamurgae (“Acts of the Wonderworking Triad”) which described the lives of St. Patrick, St. Brigid, and St. Columba, published by John Colgan, OFM, in 1647. The “Shamrock analogy” fails in the exact same way as the fidget spinner analogy, as any of the individual leaves of a shamrock are not themselves a shamrock, but instead just a part of what makes up a shamrock. Pluck a leaf off, and it is not a shamrock, it is a shamrock leaf.

The truth is that the unfathomable and Most Holy Trinity cannot be explained with a mere analogy. It is useful to remember the words of Saint Augustine about how the nature of God is beyond the capacity of the human mind to understand:

“Si comprehendis non est Deus” (If you understand, it is not God).

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Comments

16 COMMENTS

  1. Each individual leaf of the shamrock is not a shamrock. Guess bad examples of the Trinity abound. Or maybe the Trinity is SO big that there are no perfect ways to explain. Yeah, that must be it.

    • I was thinking the exact same thing. It’s not meant to be a perfect analogy nor can it be since if we could come up with one would mean we are capable of fully understanding which is impossible. It really is only trying to convey a huge incomprehensible concept as much as our understandi g will allow. Heck a shamrock isn’t even the whole plant on it’s entirity but merely one branch attatch to a larger plant if you wanna really start getting into the nitty gritty. I should write an argument for why the shamrock is a heretical analogy since it allows for the existence of other equal, possibly greater deities.

  2. Or it’s a terrible analogy simply because you’re comparing the omnipotent, transcendent God to a $4 plastic fad that will be old news in 6-12 months. Maybe I’m just a 25-year old fogy, but I think kids are looking for something deeper when it comes to God and religion – not a ‘cool’ fad that quickly loses importance.

    • It’s using something relatable to get your pointc across. St. Patrick used a native plant that looked like it would work. With all the problems in the Vatican and the fact that the guy posing as in charge is a heretical socialist, writing an article demonizing using a toy for an analogy seems kind of asinine.

  3. What about a fractal such as the Sierpinsky triangle? Zoom in on any part of the Sierpinsky triangle, and you again have a Sierpinsky triangle, ad infinitum. Seems like it may also usefully hint at perichoresis: Each part of the triangle is seen within each other part of it. Obviously, no analogy can be perfect because of what St. Augustine said, but it seems like it may avoid the more obvious heresies.

  4. Agree that you cannot explain God, but to call that “heretical” is too much. It’s the same “heresy” as the much symbols of the Holy Trinity. For example – triangle. Triangle’s corners each is a 1/3 of the triangle, but we still use it in a symbolism. Because the symbol has no power to say EVERYTHING about God. But we use them to say something about God. It’s not heresy, it’s just imperfect possibility to say something. Or we must call “heretical” all widely in used symbols of the Holy Trinity like triange.

  5. I like Dante’s analogy best, the more so because he bookends it by explicitly saying this vision doesn’t approach the truth. It also doesn’t fall into the whole “three parts, but one whole” error of the Fidget Spinner, Egg, and Shamrock analogies do.

    “Now my words will come far short
    of what I still remember, like a babe’s
    who at his mother’s breast still wets his tongue.

    Not that the living Light at which I gazed
    took on other than a single aspect —
    for It is always what It was before —

    but that my sight was gaining strength, even as I gazed
    at that sole semblance and, as I changed,
    it too was being, in my eyes, transformed.

    In the deep, transparent essence of the lofty Light
    there appeared to me three circles
    having three colors but the same extent,

    and each one seemed reflected by the other
    as rainbow is by rainbow, while the third one seemed fire,
    equally breathed forth by one and by the other.

    O how scant is speech, too weak to frame my thoughts.
    Compared to what I still recall my words are faint —
    to call them little is to praise them much.”

  6. What about the analogy of 3 drops of water on a plate, when the plate is tilted they merge into one. Is that an acceptable way to explain the Trinity?

    • I would say no, because each drop of water existed on its own as a drop of water before they ran together and made a larger drop. The “size” of God is, was, and ever shall be the same. God is neither less nor more, because the three drops can not ever have been separated.

  7. Some people have too much time on their hands. Instead of getting yourself all to-dooed about something like this, get out there and care for the hungry and homeless.

    • Thank you. We shouldn’t tangel ourselves over something so petty. There are much more serious things in the world to deal with.

  8. We live in such a superficial Christian society that many will grasp at any straw to simplify or explain God. Even the most basic understand of God takes much study, meditation and prayer. Truly, the most effective way to understand God is through prayer.

  9. I think the spinner is actually a quite good analogy. When you spin it, the three blades seem to interpenetrate each other. This illustrates the idea of perichoresis, or circumincessio, quite aptly. Moreover they share the same centre, which can be taken as the divine nature shared by the persons. One should remember that all speech about God is analogical, so not all aspects of the divinity can be expressed fully at the same time.

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