Friday, August 4, 2017

A 2D graphic analogy of the Trinity

The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of the Christian faith and of Christian life. God alone can make it known to us by revealing himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (CCC#261)
A couple years ago, I came across this illusion. Do you see a woman or do you see a bird? Look at it long enough, and you'll see both. There are many similar famous illusions. But what struck me at the time was how the image didn't change, yet it embodied both depictions. Simply speaking, the image is a two-in-one. This ignited a lightbulb over my head.

The catechism initially describes, you guessed it, three qualities with regard to the dogma of the Holy Trinity:
  • The Trinity is One (CCC#253)
  • The divine persons are really distinct from one another (#254)
  • The divine persons are relative to one another (#255)
Was there a work of art that depicts three-images-in-one without a change to the artwork itself, similar to the above woman-bird illusion? I took to the Catholic Forums with this quest. User Beryllos provided a figure involving cube shapes.  I've recreated my own version of the artwork here:


There are three distinct perspectives to view this one work of art. You can see here:
  • A cube tucked in a corner
  • Looking up at the missing corner of a cube
  • A small cube at an angle in front of a larger cube
If you don't see any of these, I created animated gifs at the bottom of this post to better visualize each of the three hidden perspectives. I also did it as an excuse to dust off old LEGO® blocks.

Let's review the three qualities of the Trinity in the catechism as they correspond to the cube illusion:
  • One - The cube illusion is a single image just as God is indivisible. When recognizing the different cubicle arrangements within the image, the image itself is not divided. 
  • Distinct - Each of the three cubicle arrangements are different, yet embody the entirety of the original image. This corresponds to the indivisibility of God even though the three divine persons are distinct. 
  • Relative - CCC#255 expounds on the Trinity's relationships thusly: "the real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another." And it goes on to reference Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which are relational concepts. In the cube analogy, the relational distinctions are admittedly weak in that none of the three relationships between each figure are dependent on one another. Instead, each of the three distinct perspectives are revealed in the way each relates to the same lines. 
Certainly, neither this, nor any temporal analogy, is adequate to "explain" a mystery as vast as the Holy Trinity. As Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) once said of Christ's decent into hell, we try to understand the matter with "images which remain very inadequate." "For now we see in a mirror dimly," (1 Cor. 13:12) as Paul wrote. But, we can still get dim glimpses of God through "the world's order and beauty." (CCC#32)  Perhaps this thought exercise contributes to that pursuit.




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