History is a trial over which God presides; Everything God says and does is designed to force fallen men, over time, to fully realize that they are the one's being tried, and to show them that they have, even from the beginning, been guilty (implicitly) of every error. It is man who destroys the truth and warps his own understanding. This is the context for all Biblical data.
Some have objected to me, saying "History is not a trial, it is God's working out of his plan for his glory." Others have said that man is not on trial because he has already been found guilty (in Eden). But, the first objection shows a shallow understanding and thus poses a false dichotomy, while the second fails to account for the implication of the first: that man is tried for his guilt in even refusing salvation; God has not yet given the ultimate verdict. This is not a simple, one-time trail in which the criminal is found guilty of a crime, sentenced, and immediately punished. The trial goes on because man insists on trying to prove that he can save himself, which is, in effect, a counterclaim against God's claim of Creator. The data used for the Athanasian Trinity has either nothing to say to this counterclaim, or everything.
As a philosophical matter (where the term 'philosophy' refers to the nature and problems of finite thought), which is more ultimate: God's one-ness or God's three-ness?
One of the problems with the orthodox Trinity is that it accepts the Classical offering of the definition of a person. There is no reason to think that the Classical offering must be sufficient. The nature of government, which was brought out by the founders of the federal government of the USA, is a perfect analogue to the logical requirements of the orthodox Trinity. But, these founders commented that the nature of government was the nature of personhood itself, in that an officer of any one of the three branches of US government was effectively prevented from acting as a total person in the carrying out of his duties of that office. A strict monarchy, in which a single person is the ultimate ruler, functions as a complete person. So does the highest officer on a ship act as a complete person in his official capacity while his ship is at sea. It is thus seen that a person, by definition, is a perfect analogue to the orthodox Trinity.
Prior to creation, there was God. When God created humans (if not before, that is, when God created the angels), God was called 'father'. The term 'father' is a name used by the person's children to mean 'the one who is/has highest authority-and-power' (it does not ultimately mean 'he who begot'). This was understood by the Jews. 'Father' does not ultimately mean 'he who has children', but means, rather, 'he who we (his children) recognize as the highest authority-and-power. (Whether Adam was made with this kind if word in his language, I don't know.) So, 'father' is a suitable name to call the God who transcends the universe (in terms of time and space).
Since God is omnipresent (that is, all of space is immediately present to God, not that God occupies every point in space in such a way as to logically compel Panentheism), God can be fully in each of various places at once. Thus, when God becomes a man (logically analogous to 'ball becomes red'), God is still the father. Plus, since it is God who begot this man (flesh), rather than a man having begot this man, God is the father of this man. That is what Jesus was saying, since the Pharisees assumed Jesus was a bastard. They understood what he was saying, and that he was claiming that God, not a man, was his father. (How they thought that this implied a claim, on Jesus' part, of being equal with God is an interesting question, having to do with a king's son being his father's embassador.)
Now, the normal relationship exhibited between Jesus and the Father (the God-who transcends) was a relationship of a perfect man to God. This was for an example to us. God played the role of a man (but not as if this man was an illusion, for it is God, and not man, who is the Essential Being). The other relationship between Jesus and the Father was that between God-who-was-once-manifest-as-an-angel-to-the-angels (the post-incarnate logos), and God-who-transcends. The pre-Trinitarian Jewish Christian understood the logos of John 1:1 as God-manifest-as-an-angel-to-the-angels. In the middle of history was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God.
So, to say that the God-who-is-robed-in-flesh is a distinct person from the person of the Father is as much pan-logical (meaningless and context-less) as to say that each of these two instances of God is a mere role. One of these is, in fact, a role, but that does not mean that the other is a role. As for what is the Holy Spirit, this is the Spirit of God working within the creation (the scriptures show this). It should be obvious that it is pan-logical to say that God's being consists of multiple persons while allowing this to be taken to allow any number of persons (ten, fifty, etc.), and the exact number of three does not improve this pan-logicalism. There are, however, some things to show that God 'consists' of three distinct 'dimensions' and that each of these three is fully a person. But, it is incorrect to say that they each are fully a person apart from the two. God is not logically synthetic. Time is not a logical synthesis of three times (past, present, and future), nor space of three spaces (3-Ds). Pure math is not what is going on here, something more than just math is going on here. If you made up a formula for space or time like the Athanasian formula for the Trinity, but made it in such a way that it contained no words to indicate what it was a formula for, then it would look very bizarre to a person who did not realize what it is a formula for. If this person was then somehow made to accept this formula as both sacred and a sacred mystery beyond the ability of the human mind to comprehend, and that he would be in grave danger were he to deny the latter of these sacrednesses, then no amount of common sense would remove his supersitition. We are no so much blind as blinded. The Orthodox Jews denied the relevance of their own scriptures, and instead worshipped the self-contradictory idea that if God wanted us to understand something, he would have spelled it out in the scriptures (that idea is itself not spelled out in the scriptures, and even the judges understood that everything written implies something not written. We are inherently no better than they. We, too, can be guilty of denying common sense when it makes a difference.
The idea that God is comprised of multiple people admits of no logical limits as to how many people of which God is comprised. Ten would be as fair a number as three, and one could never see how it could be otherwise. Only analogies to familiar 'three-part' entities such as time and space could pose a cautionary limit, but this in no way compels the idea that God is comprised of three *people*. Unfortunately, upon this last statement many people will assume an opposition is being suggested: that God's three 'parts' are non-persons. But, if God is personal, necessary, and simple, then no 'part' of God can be other than a person. The trouble at this now newest point is in failing to realize that such a simple being is not *comprised* of multiple persons, but rather that each 'part' of such a being cannot be properly understood *as a person* (a living being) except in view of the other 'parts'.
The trouble, at this point, with the 'Trinitarian' teaching is the effective assumption that the Classical offering of the definition of personhood is infallible. You are both a person and a living being, so you should, in principle, be able to answer, without a moment's thought, as to whether these two are the same of different. That you have trouble doing so is because of the conspiracy of two factors: 1)you are conditioned to philosophical gobbledygook regarding the two, and 2)the common sense of a given thing is, for the finite mind, consciously realized only by effort to make *the most sense* of the problem of the thing. The truth of a thing is irreducibly complex, which implies that the mental representation (i.e., thought, idea) of the truth of a thing is the most encompassing of all possible mental representations (i.e., ideas) of the thing.
The Athanasian Trinity is the result of an extremely over-simplistic view of the data.