Do you believe in one ‘God?’ How about one God that manifests in three different ways? This lesson explores the way that Christians describe their belief in one God.
What Is Monotheism?
Monotheism is one of two major styles of religious belief in the world. Monotheism means the belief in only one god. By contrast, polytheism means the belief in the existence of multiple gods or goddesses.
Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are the three major world religions that consider themselves monotheistic, although Christianity has a more complex explanation of ‘one God’ than Judaism and Islam do.
Monotheism in Christianity
Christians believe in one God, the God of Abraham, just as members of the Jewish faith and Muslim faith do. Indeed, these three ancient religions all stem from the covenant that God made with Abraham, causing the many similarities that we can identify amongst the three religions today.However, Christians are unique in that they believe that this one God exists as three beings: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This concept of these three facets of one God is known as the ‘Trinity’ in the Christian faith.
Medieval Interpretations of the Trinity
While most Christians do believe in the Trinity, there have been some disagreements within the Church throughout its approximately 2,000-year history. In the year 1054 A.D.
, the Christian Church experienced the ‘Great Schism,’ which is when the Western portion of the Christian Church, headed in Rome, became effectively separated from the Eastern portion of the Christian Church, which was then headed up in Constantinople. One of the items that drove a wedge between the two groups was the interpretation of the Trinity.Roman Catholic Christians, as the Western portion of the Christian Church has been known since the Great Schism, interpret the Trinity as one Godhead made up of three divine beings: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Eastern Orthodox Church, as the Eastern portion of the Christian Church has been known since the Great Schism, views the Holy Trinity in a similar fashion, but with one notable distinction.
The Eastern Orthodox Church holds that the ‘Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father,’ rather than, as the Catholics state, ‘from the Father and from the Son.’ While seemingly a slight difference, this Filioque Controversy is actually one of the top few issues that led to the 1054 A.D.
division of Christian Church into Catholic (Western – Roman Empire) and Orthodox (Eastern – Byzantine Empire).
Modern Christian Division
In the 16th century, the Western, or Catholic, Christian Church experienced another major division. The Protestant Reformation, started by Martin Luther’s posting of 95 theses – or critiques – of the Catholic Church in 1517 A.
D., led to the formation of thousands of Protestant denominations, including Lutherans, Methodists, and Baptists.Although most of these Protestant denominations interpret the Trinity as an acceptable manifestation of monotheism, there are some Christian groups today that reject this notion. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and Unitarianists do not believe that the Godhead consists of three separate beings.
Reasons for rejecting the Trinity generally center on the fact that the term was not specifically defined in the Bible.
While Christianity is known as a monotheistic religion, most Christians accept that the one God of their faith is represented by a Trinity of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. This doctrinal detail has created some controversy within the Christian Church over the years, including the schism between the Western (or Catholic) and Eastern (Byzantine) versions of Christianity.Later, after the birth of Protestantism, sects, such as Mormons, Unitarians, and Jehovah’s Witnesses rejected the idea of the Trinity while still believing in only one God.