Week 3: The Trinity

Peter Abelard

Photo courtesy of Thesupermat, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Peter Abelard (1079–21 April 1142) … was the pre-eminent philosopher and theologian of the twelfth century. The teacher of his generation, he was also famous as a poet and a musician. Prior to the recovery of Aristotle, he brought the native Latin tradition in philosophy to its highest pitch. His genius was evident in all he did. He is, arguably, the greatest logician of the Middle Ages and is equally famous as the first great nominalist philosopher. He championed the use of reason in matters of faith (he was the first to use ‘theology’ in its modern sense), and his systematic treatment of religious doctrines are as remarkable for their philosophical penetration and subtlety as they are for their audacity. Abelard seemed larger than life to his contemporaries: his quick wit, sharp tongue, perfect memory, and boundless arrogance made him unbeatable in debate—he was said by supporter and detractor alike never to have lost an argument—and the force of his personality impressed itself vividly on all with whom he came into contact. His luckless affair with Héloïse made him a tragic figure of romance, and his conflict with Bernard of Clairvaux over reason and religion made him the hero of the Enlightenment. For all his colourful life, though, his philosophical achievements are the cornerstone of his fame.[1]

Selections from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Follow the link[2] and read “Chapter 7: Theology.”  Note how his conception of Metaphysics affects the Trinity.

Orthodoxy in Visuals: Bernard of Clairvaux and Masaccio:


St. Bernard of Clairvaux, (born 1090, probably Fontaine-les-Dijon, near Dijon, Burgundy [France]—died August 20, 1153, Clairvaux, Champagne; canonized January 18, 1174; feast day August 20), Cistercian monk and mystic, founder and abbot of the abbey of Clairvaux and one of the most influential churchmen of his time.[3]  Follow the link to read more about his substantial role in the theology of the twelfth-century Catholic Church and Second Crusade.

    Masaccio, byname of Tommaso di Giovanni di Simone Cassai, (born December 21, 1401, Castel San Giovanni [now San Giovanni Valdarno, near Florence, Italy]—died autumn 1428, Rome), important Florentine painter of the early Renaissance whose frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel of the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence (c. 1427) remained influential throughout the Renaissance. In the span of only six years, Masaccio radically transformed Florentine painting. His art eventually helped create many of the major conceptual and stylistic foundations of Western painting. Seldom has such a brief life been so important to the history of art.[4]

Visual Representation of Clairvaux’s Trinity:[5]

Photo Courtesy of Ellen Siebel-achenbach.

Masaccio’s Holy Trinity:  Follow these this link and this link [6] and examine the paintings.  If Masaccio’s conception of the Trinity differs from that of Bernard of Clairvaux, how?  What strikes you about this piece?

[1] Peter King and Andrew Arlig, “Peter Abelard,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Stanford University, August 8, 2018), https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/abelard/.

[2] Peter King and Andrew Arlig, “Peter Abelard,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Stanford University, August 8, 2018), https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/abelard/.

[3] John Richard Meyer, “St. Bernard of Clairvaux,” Encyclopædia Britannica (Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., August 16, 2020), https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Bernard-of-Clairvaux.

[4] Bruce Cole, “Masaccio,” Encyclopædia Britannica (Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., January 1, 2020), https://www.britannica.com/biography/Masaccio.

[5] Alexander Hall, “The Ontology of the Trinity According to Bernard of Clairvaux ,” Research Gate, 2007, https://www.researchgate.net/figure/The-ontology-of-the-Trinity-according-to-Bernard-of-Clairvaux_fig2_304938605.

[6] “Masaccio, Holy Trinity (Article),” Khan Academy (Khan Academy), accessed October 7, 2020, https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/renaissance-reformation/early-renaissance1/painting-in-florence/a/masaccio-holy-trinity and “Masaccio’s Holy Trinity,” ItalianRenaissance.org, accessed October 7, 2020, http://www.italianrenaissance.org/masaccios-holy-trinity/.