Body, mind, and spirit.
Past, present, and future.
Id, ego, and superego.These are concepts that go together more closely than it might first appear, a universal metaphor, a way of thinking and a tool of interpretation, the three that are one. This goes back to the ancients and is a common denominator in religion and myth.
Ralph Waldo Emerson recognized it as such back in 1844: "For the Universe has three children, born at one time, which reappear under different names in every system of thought, whether they be called cause, operation, and effect; or more poetically, Jove, Pluto, Neptune; or theologically, Father, the Spirit, and the Son; but which we will call here the Knower, the Doer, and the Sayer."
Emerson might also have expressed this as the id, the ego, and the superego, had those terms been yet invented, or simply as parent, adult, and child, or as spiritual man, middle man, and material/animal man.
David L. Miller, Professor of Religion Emeritus at Syracuse University, wrote Three Faces of God: Traces of the Trinity in Literature and Life, and recognized that the Trinity is an important universal, not just for the religious but for all of mankind. His book is full of fine literary interpretations of the trinity in such works as Jorge Luis Borges' "The Other Tiger."
Mystery novelist Dorothy L. Sayers wrote some religious works as well, including Mind of the Maker in which she offers some applications of the Trinity, especially as a tool of literary interpetation.
Steven R. Carter, in the biography entitled James Jones: An American Literary Orientalist Master, corresponded with Jones about his methods, and Jones, author of many fine novels including FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, affirmed the influence of Emerson in the use of the trinity and in his view of transcendentalism. The idea is that we are spiritual beings having a physical experience. That we are cast into the material world from the sea of the oversoul like waves crashing onto the beach. That we become separated like individual drops of water and develop egos so that we no longer recognize each other or our true nature. We eventually are reabsorbed into the sea again only to be cast ashore again in cycle.
Like Jones, Walter Van Tilburg Clark used a stylized version of the "spiritual man, middle man, material/animal man trinity" in his fiction. This was confirmed in Max Westbrook's Walter Van Tilburg Clark, an excellent study of the author and his work.
In Clark's novel, The Track Of The Cat (Western Literature Series), the trinity of brothers represent archetypes: the idealized spiritual brother, the material/animal brother, and the younger brother living the middle way, a mixture of the two. As in The Ox-Bow Incident (Modern Library Classics), Clark wanted to show that the extremes were dangerous, that man's best way is the middle way. As Yeats had it: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."
The spiritual brother is the most civilized, yet his idealism makes him weak and he is the first to give up his life. The materialist brother is more powerful yet his own material/animal nature consumes him. The youngest brother, pulled both ways, learns from both and goes on being. The cat represents the natural primitive force which is out there and yet is within us too and must be recognized and dealt with.
I recommend Jackson J. Benson's biography of Clark, THE OX-BOW MAN, as well as Max Westbrook's volume which I mentioned above. Asked his religion, Clark said several times that he believed in a spiritual naturalism. Westbrook has a lot to say about sacred naturalism and about the other authors who might fit in the same category.
Later this week I plan on reading TRINITY: THE SCIENTIFIC BASIS OF VITALISM AND TRANSCENDENTALISM by Stephen P. Smith. I don't know if I'll like this one or not, but I am fond of the trinity as a blade of interpretation, especially in the works of novelists Cormac McCarthy, James Joyce, Joseph Conrad, Jim Harrison, and several others.