Sign up ×
Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

This was produced in the 15th century by Andrei Rublev's icon of the Trinity, a highly regarded Russian orthodox artist:

Andrei Rublev's icon of the Trinity

It interprets the three men of Genesis 18 as being physical visitations of the Godhead.

How is this interpretation of Genesis 18 received by the Roman Catholic Church, modern Eastern Orthodox, the CoE, and the Free churches?

Are there any theological texts from the Midrash, early church fathers, or theologians that support Rublev's depicted interpretation of this passage?

share|improve this question

closed as too broad by Nathaniel, curiousdannii, Dan, Mr. Bultitude, El'endia Starman Sep 7 at 21:34

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

This question is very broad, since you ask for 4 distinct answers. Can you narrow the focus by asking about a single denomination? – Flimzy Aug 12 '14 at 22:44
Can you explain in more detail what exactly is depicted? Did he think that the three men were the three persons of the trinity? It would be better to ask directly about that rather than talking about the icon. – curiousdannii Aug 13 '14 at 3:55
The Midrash says that an angel is never sent on more than one mission at a time. One to bring the news of Sodom and Gomorrah, the next the news of Isaac, and the third one had to go and rescue Lot. I am not sure that this would support the Trinity view - just angels about their business. – gideon marx Aug 13 '14 at 8:57
Something tells me that you're unlikely to find a Midrash that supports the Christian doctrine of the Trinity... – Steven Doggart Aug 13 '14 at 12:46

3 Answers 3

Among church fathers, Ambrose is one supporter:

Abraham, who was glad to receive strangers, faithful to God and tireless in his service and prompt in fulfilling his duty, saw the Trinity typified. He added religious devotion to hospitality, for although he beheld three, he adored one, and while keeping a distinction of the persons, yet he called one Lord, thus giving honor to the three but signifying one power. (On His Brother, Satyrus 2.96)

Caesarius of Arles similarly writes:

He received the three men and served them loaves out of three measures. Why is this, brothers, unless it means the mystery of the Trinity? [...] In the fact that he saw three, as was already said, he understood the mystery of the Trinity, but since he adored them as one, he recognized that there is one God in three persons. (Sermon 83.4)

Origen actually finds images of the members of the Trinity in the food that is served. The calf represents Christ (Homilies on Genesis 4.2), and the preparation of three equal measures of flour into bread is an image of the Trinity (On Abraham 1.5.38).

Other fathers are not so supportive of this idea. Ephrem the Syrian believed just one of them was the Lord (Commentary on Genesis, 15.1), while Augustine called all three of them angels (City of God, 16.29).

See the Ancient Christian Commentary if you'd like to investigate further.

share|improve this answer

Catholic Perspective

The Navarre Bible - Pentateuch explanatory note on Gen 18:1-15 has in part:

This new appearance of God to Abraham is somewhat mysterious: the three men stand for God. When Abraham speaks to them, sometimes he addresses them in singular (as if there were only one person there: cf. v.3), and sometimes in the plural (as if they were three: cf. v.4). That is why some Fathers interpreted this appearance as an early announcement of the mystery of the Holy Trinity; others, following Jewish tradition (cf. Heb 13:2) take these personages to be angels. The sacred text says that one of the three men ([the LORD]), apparently stays with Abraham (cf. v. 22), while the other two, who are referred to as angels, go to Sodom (cf. 19:1).

share|improve this answer
How is this interpretation of Genesis 18 received by the Roman Catholic Church - the post wrote. I do not see why there should be a -1 downvote against my answer. – FMS Jan 15 at 18:24

Augustine, for one:

"Do you see that Abraham meets Three but bows down to One? ... Having beheld Three, he understood the mystery of the Trinity, and having bowed down to One, he confessed One God in Three Persons."

share|improve this answer
Augustine took the opposite position in City of God: where did he say this? – Nathaniel Sep 3 at 22:32

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.