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The Shield of the Trinity, or Scutum Fidei, which is Latin for ‘shield of faith,’ is a traditional Christian symbol which expresses the concept of the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The early teachers of the church developed this triangular diagram as a tool to demonstrate to the largely illiterate faithful about the fundamental Christian doctrine and the undivided and eternal nature of the Trinitarian God.
Variations of the Shield of Trinity Symbol
Throughout history, the Holy Trinity was expressed in many ways. In church architecture we often see three arches or pillars. People bless themselves with a sign of a cross with three fingers joined together to show their respect and faith in the Trinitarian God. Christians have used different symbols and designs to express the Holy Trinity and the nature of the God, and here are some of them:
- The Shield of the Trinity
The classic Shield of Trinity symbol dates back to the 12th century and is shaped as a downward-pointing triangular diagram.
It consists of four interlinked circular nodes. The three nodes are at each vertex of the triangle connected with three same-length bars. The fourth node or circle is placed in the center and is also linked with bars of equal length to the outer circles. The three names are written inside the circles at the edge of the diagram – The Father (Latin Pater), The Son (Latin Filius), and The Holy Spirit (Spiritus Sanctus). The circle at the center has God (Deus) written inside it.
The three links connecting the inner with the outer circles carry the word ‘is’ (Latin Est), while the bars connecting the outer circles are labeled with ‘is not’ (Latin Non Est).
The Shield is a Christian traditional visual symbol that expresses different aspects of the Trinity doctrine. The beautiful organization of words and sentences within the diagram represents the everlasting nature of the God and God’s activity in the world.
One of the earliest symbolic representations of the Holy Trinity was an equilateral upward-pointing triangle.
The three equal sides with equal angles represent the three persons in one God. It’s extremely strong shape convey the balance and stability of the Godhood. The connection between each side of the triangle represented the eternal nature of the Trinity.
The three entwined circles represent the three unified members of the Trinity. As a never-ending line with no beginning and no end, a circle represents perfection, eternity, or God.
- Borromean Rings
The interlaced Borromean golden rings are used to represent the idea of the Trinity unity and the worship of one God. The earliest source of the rings can be traced back to the 13th-century manuscript found in the Municipal Library at Chartres. Inside the center, at the intersection of all the circles, the word ‘unitas’ was written, and the syllables ‘tri-ni-tas’ were distributed in the outer sectors.
Trefoil is one of the most common symbols of the Trinity, often found in Gothic church windows. It depicts a three-leafed shamrock created and used by St. Patrick to illustrate Trinity’s doctrine and unity – the three separate leaves of one clover-like plant.
This stylized lily or iris symbol is used to represent several ideas. One tradition claims that Fleur-de-lis symbolizes the tears shed by the Mother of Jesus, or the Virgin Mary, after his crucifixion, and hence, represents purity. The French kings adopted it as a symbol of royalty. Due to its shape of three equal parts, it also depicts the Holy Trinity.
The Triquetra, or Trinity Knot, is an early Trinity symbol design based on the oldest Christ symbols, the shape of three fish. The interweaving of the three equal arches of the circle represents indivisibility. All of the arches are of the same length, which is symbolic of the equality of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Finally, the continuous line that makes the shape of the Triquetra represents eternity.
The Meaning of the Shield of Trinity Symbol
The Shield of Trinity emblem explains that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all fully and completely God. They are one and the same, but, still, characteristically unique from one another. The links depicted in the diagram are omnidirectional, and the words can be read and interpreted from any starting point in any direction.
It explains the nature of the Holy Trinity described in the Bible. Hence, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three distinct persons of the same substance. It also defines an important concept in Christian theology of mutual dwelling, which means that the three persons are permanently present in one another. It goes further to explain that they are all involved in each of their operations – creation, redemption, and blessing.
The Trinity doctrine is at the center of Christianity, depicting the true nature of God and the triadic quality of reality. The Scutum Fidei diagram is a universal symbol of eternity, indivisibility, and unity – how ‘three-ness’ becomes ‘one-ness.’
It stresses the importance of continuity and the unbreakable connection between all the things that make life possible.
- In this context, the Holy Trinity concept relates to the family, representing husband, wife, and offspring.
- It also points to the direct connection between mind, body, and soul, or, in other words, our thinking, actions, and feelings.
- As an ideal representation of eternity, it’s also a symbol of the inseparability between past, present, and future.
- Similarly, it portrays faith, love, and hope.
Non-Christian Interpretations of the Trinity Symbol
The notion of the Holy Trinity has evoked different reactions in other religions. In Islam, the doctrine is seen as an ‘evidence’ of Christian corruption of true monotheism, and its descent from the true path of worshiping and following the one and only God, Allah. However, in the Qur’an, ‘trinity’ refers to God, Jesus, and Mary, which they claim isn’t recognizable as the Christian Trinity.
On the other hand, other religions have accepted a much more positive attitude toward the idea of Trinity. Some similarities with the ‘threefold’ concept can be found in several non-Christian religions. In Hinduism, there’s a notion of three forms of God called Trimurti. The Trinity doctrine relates to the Hindu comprehension of the supreme Brahman as ‘Sat-Cit-Ananda’, that stands for absolute truth, consciousness, and bliss.
Scholars have noted that the belief in the divine trinity trace back to many religions of the ancient world, such as:
- Sumeria: The three regions of the universe
- Babylonia: A composite god with three heads
- India: The three gods – Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva
- Greece: According to Aristotle: “…everything and all things are bounded by threes, for the end, the middle and the beginning have this number in everything”.
- Egypt: The three gods – Amun, Re, and Ptah
- Paganism: Triple Goddess which refers to the maiden, the mother and the crone.
The Shield of Trinity Symbol in Modern Age
Today, we can find different versions of the Shield of Trinity symbol. Sometimes, there are triangles instead of circles, curved bars in place of the straight, and a star in the middle instead of circle.
As with many other Christian symbols, the Trinity symbol has been assigned a wide variety of meanings and uses in the modern age. Here are some examples:
- It can be used as a symbol of devotion to Christian faith;
- Since it represents eternity, it makes for a perfect gift to convey a wish of longevity, strength, and health;
- As it doesn’t have the beginning nor the end, it can be a symbol of eternal love;
- It comes in the forms of tattoos to express family values, religion, and spiritual awareness;
- As a symbol of faith, love, and hope, it could be a wonderful present for many occasions, especially those that denote a great change in a person’s life;
- It’s a protective symbol and a shield from troubles, concerns, and difficult circumstances.
To Sum It All Up
With such a wide array of different meanings, the symbolism of the Shield of Trinity is open to interpretation but its most common association is as a representation of the concept of the Holy Trinity in Christianity. The various meanings it can have boil down to one common eternal concept of the three interconnected entities – separate, but, yet, dependent on one another.