Persona: Trinity Soul–the awesomest title EVAR



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!  

Author: gendomike

Michael lives in the Los Angeles area, and has been into anime since he saw Neon Genesis Evangelion in 1999. Some of his favorite shows include Full Metal Alchemist, Honey and Clover, and Welcome to the NHK!. Since 2003 he has gone to at least one anime convention every year. A public radio junkie, which naturally led to podcasting, he now holds a seminary degree and is looking to become Dr. Rev. Otaku Bible Man any day now. Michael can be reached at You can also find his Twitter account at @gendomike.

14 thoughts on “Persona: Trinity Soul–the awesomest title EVAR

  1. I’ve always thought this debate was kind of interesting. Granted as an outsider to the religion itself, I don’t really have any vested interest in an answer.

    I do think it’s funny that you reference Kierkegaard in a post about Christianity, with the whole existentialist bent that he had.

  2. Bring on the Latin. Bring on the Greek. Bring on the theology that will in all likelihood have nothing at all to do with the story. The concept of the Trinity is deep and fascinating. Thanks for your little discussion, which even as a former Christian I found very interesting.

    And I think of Kierkegaard as a Christian existentialist, who was opposed to the church rather than to Christianity.

  3. Warning?
    I think more of a blessing.

    Anyways, in regards to the Trinity, I have found it more effective to explain it one of two ways.

    I am a son. My dad is my father. But he was not my father before I was born. When I was born, we became both the son and the father respectively.

    My dad and I are both human. We may be father and son, therefore having different functions, but in relation to race, we have equality. The three persona of the Godhead are all God. They may be Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, therefore having different functions, but in relation to race, there is equality.

    I wonder if that gives a bit of insight to those reading this post.

  4. Sorry, but public education must be really lacking wherever you live if that seems like a particularly deep or literate title to you.

    Boboboubo Boubobo is clearly awesomer in any case.

  5. It’s worth noting that the game series that the anime is originally based on is big on cultural and religious eastern and western religion, mythos, etc or something along the lines. They also mostly keep to the original sources other than keeping some artistic liberty here and there for the sake of plot …and blasphemy >_> <_< *the series is a great spin-off of Shin Megami Tensei, one of the top rpgs in japan, except compared with the likes of final fantasy and dragon quest, it is more apocalyptic and significantly darker, plus the final boss is a judeo-christian god!*

    Also, the persona series all take place in the same world, and its most likely safe to say that this anime is the same because its a continuation of persona 3 taken place 6? or so years after. However, I’m surprised about the atmosphere in this trailer, because persona 3 is actually the most pop culture orientated entry in the series…

    Actually, I don’t have a deep knowledge about western religion, since I come from a buddhist background, although I’m always up for learning (buddhists openly learn of other religions, they usually just don’t practice it)

    so yeah, nice nice post : d

  6. @thenightsshadow: Heresy. The trinity of god can’t be explained, it’s beyond human understanding and must be accepted as it is.

  7. Interesting observation, Mike. It would be great to see you blog this, assuming that what the name implies also carries over to the anime in some form. (:

  8. All I can say is to the reactions to this piece: whoa. 🙂 Maybe I really do need to restart my long dormant theology blog after all! However, I don’t intend to get into a lengthy theological disquisition on this space as that would be a bit too offtopic.

    @Cameron: Kierkegaard was definitely a Christian as much as he was an existentialist (a term I don’t think he would have used himself, as it was coined later). He, and Bonhoeffer, are a formative influence on my way of doing theology, though I dissent from his extreme individualism. As hashihime correctly notes, Kierkegaard loved God and loved Jesus–his devotional works like Practice in Christianity and some of his prayers are incredibly heartfelt and devout–but he loathed the state Lutheran church of his day.

    @hashihime: I’m glad you found it interesting. If I ever restart my theology blog I will definitely point you to it.

    @thenightshadow: #2 is a decent restatement of the economic Trinity–the roles are distinct with each person but the “nature” is the same and the personae are ontologically equal. #1 I’m afraid I don’t agree with; this is more or less what’s known as “adoptionism,” where Jesus became the Son at his baptism. This was what was at stake during the Council of Nicea, with Arius and his followers saying just that and pointing to a Old Testament verse where God says, “Today I have become your father, and you have become my son” and the slogan “there was a time when the Son was not.” But Father and Son are both eternal according to classical orthodoxy (“begotten, not made…of one substance with the Father”). If the Son was somehow not the Son from eternity that would mean Jesus is less than God and thus less than able to save.

    @Moser: I hope you recognized just a little hyperbole in the title down to the 1337sp33k. 🙂 I just found it funny and gratifying to see all three words in such close proximity that reminded me of a whole bunch of systematic theology topics, none of which I think most public secular schools would delve into such detail! And, well, yes, thenightshadow’s position #1 is considered heresy from the standpoint of orthodox Nicene faith, which is my own position. My theology professor says though that if you trust in Jesus as Lord and God, you are implicitly a Trinitarian whether you quite can state it in the exact terms defined in the early centuries or not, since Trinitarian doctrine is a direct result of reflection on how God can be One and also Jesus. It becomes a problem if, like Arius, you start insisting your analogy (all analogies fall apart if pushed) is the DEFINITIVE one and insist that everyone follow it.

    Your final statement is certainly true in the ultimate sense, though it’s never wrong to ask questions with the intent of seeking truth, in which we’ll always make mistakes along the way. The starting point of Christian theology is “I believe in order that I might understand” (Anselm and Augustine both, neither of whom were incurious to say the least, and Augustine published an entire book of retractions at the end of his life for his earlier work). Wannabe theologians like me also do well to remember Gregory of Nyssa’s saying: “concepts create idols; only wonder comprehends anything.” The love of God in Christ must always be where we begin as Christian theologians.

    @smashingtofu: thanks for the detailed info about the world of Persona. What you describe sounds a lot like Xenogears, or Philip Pullman’s trilogy. They sure like to beat on God these days!

    @Owen: I doubt it. 🙂 This was just an excuse to theologize!

    I think that’s probably the most detailed I’ll go into the matter here. If you want to read more of this kind of thing, I have a theology section on my personal blog.

  9. @ Mike: I did mention it was more of an explanation than a fact. To explain thunder to a 3-year old as factually possible is as hard to ingrain as the possibility of a Trinity in a monotheistic religion.

  10. I welcome our theological overlords. Only if it is good to remind myself why seminary is not my path.

    That said I totally understand that Eureka moment this blog post is inspired by. Sometimes the Spirit just breaks clouds and moelicious bishies to bring you a note about something more beautiful.

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