Warning: this is where the stuff I do and think about the rest of the day–Christian theology–breaks out. Big time. Stop here if you are not interested in some heavy duty systematic theology!
As a theologian-in-training, let me just say I applaud, praise, and adore the creators of this anime for creating such a theologically literate title. Every single word has deep, meaningful roots in the history of the doctrine of the Trinity and the Augustinian view of humanity as reflecting the Trinity. Let me explain.
- Persona. This was the word in Latin chosen by Tertullian in the 2nd century to describe the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That’s why we say in traditional western theology that God is “three persons and one substance (or essence).” This has always been, of course, a paradoxical doctrine that other monotheistic religions like Judaism and Islam have had a real problem with–what is this whole three-in-one business? It helps to recognize that the term “person” in the ancient world meant something somewhat different than it does to us. We tend to think of a person as a free, independent consciousness with his or her own will. If that’s the case, then we really do have three gods. For this reason, theologian Karl Barth proposed the term “mode of being” instead of “person,” though I think this way of phrasing things is a little too close to the old modalist heresy. In either case, the “persons” of the Trinity are distinct in role, but always work together and never apart. They share a single will and single essence, but are in relation to one another. I like the way the image the Eastern Church uses to describe this relationship–perichoresis, a circle dance with joined hands that never let go.
- Trinity. Which is why it’s so awfully appropriate to follow the word persona with trinitas, which was a term also coined by Tertullian. It was a new word; no other Latin writer had used it before. If they added the word “Substance” somewhere they’d have all three words Tertullian used to formulate the doctrine. What’s most interesting is that Trinity is paired with…
- Soul. Here we depart from the doctrine of God to the doctrine of humanity (anthropology). Augustine believed that the image of God that resides in each human being was found in the mind/soul (Greek: nous), and that one could see evidence of the Trinity in our the way our very souls were structured. We all have just one soul; but our souls are capable of will, memory, and understanding, which we can distinguish but which also all (ideally) work together as one mind. (As Kierkegaard put it, “Purity of heart is to will but one thing.”) Our souls thus are Trinitarian; we are Trinity Souls. This has been sometimes called the “psychological” theory of the Trinity.
Now, my understanding of this anime is that it’s about three brothers who are trying to solve mysteries and fight demons with their “persona” spirits. What does that have to do with the doctrine of the Trinity? Not much, if anything probably. But I just thought that title was immensely clever and deserved unpacking.
This theological moment is brought to you by Michael Huang. Because theologians can’t resist the opportunity to bloviate with Greek and Latin terms!