Three Persons in One: The Bizarre Trinitarian Images?


Oh, how dull you are if you still presume

with your ponderous doctrines to investigate

that which is unknown to the supreme intellects:

and you know that no one is permitted

to comprehend a god save he himself.

Like a blind mole around the sun

your mind is still revolving

frantically, and you still imagine

in your darkness to be able

to behold such splendour.


You whose eyes are blindfolded

can tell you are a mole.


But as you know, to this great light

I am a trusty guide and leader.

Faith, Theology

No, it is not possible…

Yes, with your help…


Arrogant maids,

you are chasing shadows

and letting your thoughts deceive you.

How could there possibly be three Persons

with but one identity?

So bizarre an idea is too hard to grasp.

The rivers can flow from one ocean

and may rays of light from a single sun,

that may well be so.

But the majesty of one god

residing in three Persons

without creating more gods –

that concept I reject.

Faithlessness, in Scarlatti’s La Santissima Trinita, argues that the concept of one god with three identities is such a bizarre idea. An idea that threatens to create more gods instead of just one god, Faithlessness concludes.

Through the centuries, visual artists have struggled with the potential errors or dangers in portraying the Trinity. Painting this concept of Three in One often ended with mixed results and sometimes very bizarre images of the Trinity. So bizarre that variations of this type were forbidden by the church.

Typically, this Trinitarian iconographic type shows three faces joined together in one body. In the painting below, the triangular halo provides a symbolic mark that the figure is that of the Trinity. The three faces representing God the Father, Son, and Spirit, are fused together and sharing one neck and connected to one body.


Image: Santísima Trinidad, atribuido a Gregorio Vásquez de Arce y Ceballos.
Colección Museo de Arte Colonial. Bogotá.

Instead of three integrated faces sharing one neck, some versions of this Trinitarian iconography have the faces separated with each one having their own neck but connected to a single “almost pregnant looking” body. In both cases, the Unity (one body) and Identity (Three Faces) struggle to portray the often abstract theological and doctrinal truths about the Trinity.


Image: La Santisima Trinidad (James Cordova, 1995)
However, as in the image on top, the unique identities of the Three Godheads are emphasized, not just by portraying the identical looking heads as separated but by including emblems of the Father (sun), Son (sheep) , and Spirit (dove) at the center of the breast or chest of each.

The movement towards distinguishing the Three comes to some conclusion with paintings still showing the three identical faces but each one now with their own separated bodies. The Three are now portrayed with more individuality and separation or uniqueness.This type of image represents an example of a representation of the Trinity found commonly in the Philippines.


Was Scarlatti’s character, Faithlessness, right in arguing about how bizarre is the concept of one god in three identities? One wonders what Faithlessness reactions will be if shown these paintings of the “synthronos” Trinity? In the end, shall we sing like Scarlatti’s Theology?


That so profound a mystery

calls for a God-like mind, I do not deny;

but with the passing of time

all mysteries are eventually resolved,

and we shall grasp

that which, obscure to us, we do not understand.

Yes, the images may be bizarre but isn’t believing that our God was cruficied and died on the cross for us….more bizarre? Indeed, Trinitarian faith & devotion calls us to enter the word and images of a “bizarre” but beautiful mystery.

~ by Martin Gaerlan on August 9, 2006.

4 Responses to “Three Persons in One: The Bizarre Trinitarian Images?”

  1. is the concept of 3 heads and one body still protayed in the church concerning the trinity?

  2. Pope Urban VIII , on August 11 1628, probihited representations of the Trinity as three heads fused into one neck. Furthermore, all such representations were ordered destroyed or burned. Consequently, such portrayals are rarely seen in churches today.

  3. To whom it may concern
    I am searching for various art work including: paintings,masks and etc.. under where do i find both ancient and modern representations of the FORBIDDEN TRINITY – 3 heads FUSED INTO ONE NECK.
    tHIS REVELATION HAS BEEN REVEALED to mySELF any help finding this will be appreciated. my Email is:

  4. HI just want to inquire if you have any description of the santisima trinidad painting of gregorio vasquez. I just want to know the inscriptions on the circles on the figures left & right hand, abdomen & feet. thanks

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