Soulen’s proposal in The Divine Name(s) and the Holy Trinity is that we see the Trinity as a “pattern of divine naming” that “orbits tightly” around the unpronounced proper name of God: Yahweh.
He seeks a truly orthodox understanding of the Trinity. One of the authorities for this is the Nicene Creed. Many authors have treated this, so I’m not going to rehash his account. But I have never before seen a discussion of his other authority. He sees a special meaning in the way scribes wrote down the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Orthography is the term for this.
The name of God was treated in a special way when written down. We see a bit of this in our own Bibles. We often print divine names in capital letters, such as God, Spirit, Lord. We substitute for the four-letter proper name of God the name “LORD” in all caps. This is orthography.
Soulen says that in nearly all old hand-written copies of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (LLX), the substitute for the divine name appears in Hebrew letters right in the midst of an otherwise Greek text. It was a way of treating the name of God as holy. In fancy Hebrew manuscripts the substitute for the divine name sometimes got printed in gold letters.
Early Christian scribes continued to avoid the actual proper name of God. They wrote it without vowels in capital letters with a line drawn over it. To show this in English you have to write the word Lord like this: LD. Instead of the bold lettering, imagine a line drawn over it. The thing about the Christian scribes is that they began to treat other names like this as well. Instead of God, they wrote GD. Instead of Jesus, they wrote JS. Instead of Christ, they wrote CT. Thus, 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 was writen something like this:
“even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords—yet for us there is one GD, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one LD, JS, CT, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”
Soulen relates this to how the scribes would have rendered the Hebrew Bible’s affirmation called the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel, adonai our God, adonai is one.” Adonai (Lord) was written in Hebrew letters.
I wanted to give an idea of orthography and how Jews and Christians used it. Soulen calls this the visual creed. By looking at the orthography of the early Christians, we can see how they named God, and how Trinitarian thought arose. Orthography takes us back to the first century, way before the official creeds.
Today it is popular to say that doctrines like Christ being both human and divine and the triune nature of God came about through a political process in the third and fourth centuries. Orthography, however, suggests that the creeds officially adopted ways of naming God that were already in use by the church.