It’s likely you have heard of the fidget spinner, the hottest toy craze of 2017. If your kids don’t already have one, and you haven’t seen them at the counter of every gas station and grocery store, a fidget spinner is a spinning toy with three paddle-shaped blades attached to a central core with a bearing. Squeeze the core, give the blades a flick and they spin. The three blades become one singular blur as they spin around.
Because of their popularity, some priests, teachers, and preachers have tried to use them as an analogy for the Holy Trinity. Memes on social media showing how the fidget spinner is like the Trinity are all over, like the following one:
But the fidget spinner isn’t just a bad analogy for the Holy Trinity, it is heretical.
Now, that may sound pretty zealous and “rigid” for a seemingly innocuous and accessible way to talk to kids about the Trinity. But bad analogies for the Trinity are everywhere, and they give people a false understanding of the nature of God.
Here’s the problem with the analogy of the fidget spinner: the three individual blades are not on their own a fidget spinner. Instead, they’re each just a part of a fidget spinner that when spun “seem” to become one. This analogy commits the same mistake as comparing God to an egg (shell, yolk, egg white).
But the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not “parts” of God. Each Person of the Trinity is fully God, not a 1/3 component that, when combined with others, becomes “God”. That falls into Partialism, Modalism, or Sabellianism.
The Eleventh Council of Toledo stated, ”The Father is that which the Son is, the Son that which the Father is, the Father and the Son that which the Holy Spirit is, i.e., by nature one God” (Council of Toledo XI (675): DS 530:26).
But people may say “What about Saint Patrick’s analogy of the Shamrock? How is that any different”. The truth is that Saint Patrick likely never used the Shamrock as an analogy.
The earliest written mention of Saint Patrick and the Shamrock comes from a 17th century haigiographical work called Acta Trias Thautamurgae (“Acts of the Wonderworking Triad”) which described the lives of St. Patrick, St. Brigid, and St. Columba, published by John Colgan, OFM, in 1647. The “Shamrock analogy” fails in the exact same way as the fidget spinner analogy, as any of the individual leaves of a shamrock are not themselves a shamrock, but instead just a part of what makes up a shamrock. Pluck a leaf off, and it is not a shamrock, it is a shamrock leaf.
The truth is that the unfathomable and Most Holy Trinity cannot be explained with a mere analogy. It is useful to remember the words of Saint Augustine about how the nature of God is beyond the capacity of the human mind to understand:
“Si comprehendis non est Deus” (If you understand, it is not God).