Theme: The Trinity:
One God in Trinity, and Trinity in unity
Trinity Sunday is a summation of the revelatory journey of first half of the church year. In the current lectionary it is the first Sunday after Pentecost. The following Sundays focus on the life and teachings of Jesus during his some 3 years of ministry here on earth. Trinity Sunday lays the foundations for the time to come, in that we reflect upon how God is revealed to us through the Holy Spirit teaching us the significance of Jesus life and his relationship with God, the Father.
Trinity Sunday is one of the few if not only Sundays, where the readings can barely touch on the depth of the theme. For the teaching of God being, one God, three Persons is not only a summary of the Revelation of God in the whole of Scripture but also a summary of centuries of reflection by the church on the nature of God as revealed in the life of Jesus Christ.
Proverbs 8:1 – 4, 22 – 31
Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?
2 On the heights, beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;
3 beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
4 “To you, O people, I call,
and my cry is to all that live.
The LORD created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
23 Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth—
26 when he had not yet made earth and fields,4
or the world’s first bits of soil.
27 When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28 when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
29 when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30 then I was beside him, like a master worker;5
and I was daily his6 delight,
rejoicing before him always,
31 rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.
We reflect on:
- how we hear God calling to us in our lives
- the time before the creation of the world
- God’s eternal existence.
- the relationship between Wisdom, the Word and the Holy Spirit
- how this passage became the source of the controversy that led to the formulation of the Nicene Creed in that it was applied to the Word of God, the Son of God; by Arius who then argued that Jesus was created, not eternal.
This passage has two basic emphases. The first how the voice of wisdom, as Christians we would say, that Jesus, the Word of God, through the Holy Spirit, calls to every person in their everyday life, to all that live. The second, is far more metaphysical in that it leads us back to the time before the creation of the world. In so doing, it reminds us, that contrary to the thinking of many today, that God existed before the creation of all things. Consequently, God has always existed.
This passage is also a primary example of how as Christians, we reflect upon the revelation of God in the old Testament, in the light of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ and that revelation as recorded in the new Testament.
In this light, it raises the question for us ‘who or what is wisdom’ that speaks in this passage? Is it Christ, the wisdom of God or the Holy Spirit?
The ambiguity of this passage led to a controversy in the 4th century, as to the nature of Jesus Christ. The Council of Nicaea (the first Ecumenical Council) was called to address this controversy. A Priest, Arius argued that this passage meant that Jesus the Word of God, the Son of God, was the first created being and consequently, not eternal.
The Council of Nicaea strongly refuted this:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
Later Councils were to address the divinity of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 5:1 – 5
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
We reflect on:
- how we experience being justified by our faith in Christ and the Holy Spirit being poured into our hearts
- the hope we have, through Christ and the Holy Spirit, sharing the glory of God and how this helps us in the trials of this life.
- That the Holy Spirit is love.
The Trinitarian understanding of God, permeates the whole of the new Testament. There are so many references that could be quoted. This passage from St Paul has a simplicity about it, in that not only does it refer to the 3 persons of the Trinity, but it speaks of what is the distinguishing essence of the person of the Holy Spirit: Love.
John 16:12 – 15
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
We reflect on:
- the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives today
- how in God, truth and love are virtually, synonyms.
- How this passage reveals the unity of the 3 persons, Father, Word – Son and Holy Spirit
For the past few weeks, our Gospel readings have come from John’s account of Jesus teaching at the last supper. Jesus has spoken of how through his death, resurrection and ascension, the disciples would receive the Holy Spirit. Today’s passage not only emphasises that the Holy Spirit, in guiding them into all truth, will reveal things that they do not yet know. At the same time, Jesus continues to affirm the unity between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
It is important to note that although Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Truth, that the truth (the Word) is revealed in love. The Holy Spirit is love and reveals the truth in love.
Some further Reflections on the Trinity
The doctrine of the Trinity, as mentioned above, was first clearly articulated in the Nicene Creed, which we often recite on Sundays. In many Anglican churches in the past, though far less today, the Athanasian Creed was recited on Trinity Sunday. It is the first Creed in which the equality of the three persons of the Trinity is explicitly stated. It also differs from other creeds in the inclusion of anathemas or condemnations of those who disagree with the creed. This is one the reasons that the creed is not often recited in churches today. It can be found in the back of the prayer book.
If we sit lightly with its anathemas, and see them, partly as a product of their particular time and culture, there is still much in the creed that can be of value for us today in understanding the Trinity, particularly, if we recognise that the creeds, although doctrinally and definitional, are ultimately to be prayed through, meditated upon.
The creed begins by stating:
“We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in unity;
Neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son: and another of the Holy Spirit.”
Yet although there are three persons, their ‘Glory equal, the majesty coeternal’
“Such as the Father is, such is the Son: and such as the Holy Spirit”
Each person is un-create, incomprehensible, eternal, Almighty, Lord and God.
It then addresses the the distinction of each person within the Trinity
“the Father is made of none: neither created, nor begotten.
The Son is of the Father alone: not made, not created, but begotten.
The Holy Spirit is of the father and of the Son: Neither made, nor Created, nor Begotten, but Proceeding”……..
“But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together: and co-equal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid: the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.
The creed then addresses the nature of Jesus
“That Our Lord Jesus Christ, The Son of God, Is God and Man;
God, of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the Worlds: and Man, of the Substance of His Mother, Born in the World
Perfect God, and Perfect Man: of a Reasonable Soul in Human Flesh Subsisting;
Equal to the Father, as touching His Godhead: and inferior to the Father, as touching His Manhood.
Who Although He Be God and Man: It Is Not Too, but One Christ
One; Not by Conversion of the Godhead into Flesh: but Taking of the Manhood into God;
One Altogether; Not by Confusion of Substance: but by Unity of Person”
There are two critical issues for us today:
- how we understand the word person
- the masculine imagery of the Trinity
With regard to 1, if we consult any credible dictionary, will find that there are many uses for the word person. Some of these are:
- a human being, distinguished from an animal or a thing
- in philosophy, a self-conscious or rational being. The actual sell for individual personality of a human being
- the body in its external aspect: an attractive person to look at
- a character, part, or role, is in a play or story
- an individual of distinction or importance.
In our modern usage, we are more likely to see 1 and 3 as our normative understanding of person. Yet 2, 4 and 5 are more significant in understanding the use of the word person in describing God.
St Thomas Aquinas relied heavily on definition 5 based on definition 2, in arguing that in God, the word person meant a person of ultimate distinction or importance.
The bold text in the creed above is critical for our understanding of the distinction between the three persons.
But a person, whatever their status etc, is also in relationship with others. Hence, each person in God, implies a relationship with other persons. In the Trinity, the three persons are in relationship with each other. In so being, the community of persons in the very nature of God, is the foundation for true relationships between every human being. God in creating human beings, created them in his image and likeness, male and female, he created them (Genesis 1:26-28)
It is in this light that we reflect upon the second issue, the masculine imagery of the Trinity, that is such an important discussion in the church today.
Different language is used in some churches. For example:
- Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier
- Source, Word and Spirit.
- Father and Mother God, Word and Spirit
Jesus addressed or referred to God as Father, many times. For example, the Lord’s prayer, Last Supper discourse and the following prayer from Matthew’s gospel
25 At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Matthew 11:25 – 27)
In the Jewish context, Jesus referring to God as Father was radical as the Jews would never pronounce God’s personal name, in English Lord God, when reading the Scriptures.
Referring to the ‘Son of God’, in less masculine terms is easy given that Jesus is the Word of God, the image of God. Similarly, Holy Spirit is distinguished as a person within the Trinity, as love. Although the Spirit is not a gender orientated word, the Spirit can be seen as feminine.
Amidst all this, it is important that we learn to be
Trinitarian in our prayer; finding our way of praying to God, through the Word
or Son, in the Spirit and exploring the significance of the Revelation of one
God in Trinity, and Trinity in unity and that the heart of this revelation is
that God is love. The love of God poured into our hearts through the Holy
Spirit that has been given to us, that is given to us.
The Rublev Icon
The icon pictured on the head of this page is by the mediaeval, Russian Orthodox Saint, Andrey Rublyov (Andrei Rublev)
the icon is called simply ‘The Trinity’ or ‘the Hospitality of Abraham’
the icon depicts the three angels who visited Abraham at the Oak of Mamre (Genesis 18:1-8). The Wikipedia states that at the time of Rublev, ‘the Holy Trinity was the embodiment of spiritual unity, peace, harmony, mutual love and humility’.
There is no action or movement in the painting. The figures gaze into eternity in the state of motionless contemplation.
In Rublev’s icon, the form that most clearly represents the idea of the consubstantiality of the Trinity’s three Persons or hypostases is a circle. It is the foundation of the composition. At the same time, the angels are not inserted into the circle, but create it instead, thus our eyes can’t stop at any of the three figures and rather dwell inside this limited space. The impactful center of the composition is the cup with the calf’s head. It hints at the crucifixion sacrifice and serves as the reminder of the Eucharist (the left and the right angels’ figures make a silhouette that resembles a cup). Around the cup, which is placed on the table, the silent dialogue of gestures takes place.
The left angel symbolizes God the Father. He blesses the cup, yet his hand is painted in a distance, as if he passes the cup to the central angel that the central angel represents Jesus Christ, who in turn blesses the cup as well and accepts it with a bow as if saying “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39) The nature of each of the three persons is revealed through their symbolic attributes, i.e. the house, the tree, and the mountain
The house above the head of the left angel representing home; the Oak of Marmara ‘the Tree of Life’ and consequently a symbol of Jesus death and resurrection; the mountain is a symbol of the spiritual ascent which humankind accomplishes with the help of the Holy Spirit. The unity of the 3 persons expresses unity and love between all things. The wings of 2 angels, the Father and the Son, Interplay. The blue of the son’s robe representing divinity, the brown representing humanity and the gold, kingship.
The wings of the Holy Spirit do not touch the Son’s wings. The blue colour of the Holy Spirit’s robe representing divinity and the green representing new life. The poses and inclinations of the Holy Spirit and the Sons heads demonstrate their submission to the Father, yet their placement on the throne is the same level symbolises equality.