The Feast of the Holy Trinity: a teaching about our God

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 Holy Trinity with Augustine and Giorgio of CremonaPrevitali, Andrea, ca. 1470-1528. Holy Trinity with Augustine and Giorgio of Cremona, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.The Feast of the Holy Trinity is a festival unlike the other great festivals of the Christian Church because it commemorates not an event in the great drama of our redemption, but a teaching about God. But, just the same, this feast in honour of a doctrine is important because it is about our God.

Trinity Sunday is, in a way, the summing up of all the celebrations of our redemption over the past months: Christmas, Epiphany, Holy Week and Easter and, last Sunday, Pentecost. Some may ask, “Where can I find the concept of the Trinity in the Bible?” My answer is “all over the place”.

It’s true that the idea of the Trinity in scripture is implicit rather than explicit. Very early in the church’s history both the scriptural “signposts” to the Trinity, as well as Christian experience, were captured in the formula we call the Trinity: God as One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Because we do have scriptural “signposts” to the idea of the Triune God, in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, the Church has chosen readings for the liturgy on Trinity Sunday from those passages which point us to the Trinity.

This year the first reading is a beautiful passage about Divine Wisdom from the Book of Proverbs in the Hebrew Scripture; one in which God’s self-disclosure becomes personified as Divine Wisdom. Wisdom is God going forth in revelation and action. As the idea of Wisdom developed, it—or more accurately she—really becomes the active organ of people’s religious experience. Paul Gibson has put it this way:

This is a description of Lady Wisdom and it is the Handmaid of God in the process of creation. It is not a long step from Wisdom as the metaphor of the beginning to the Word who was with God and was God . We can see the theology of Trinity unfolding before our eyes, with tones that are female as well as male, playful as well as sober, intuitive as well as logical.

The second reading this Sunday is from the letter to the Romans by St. Paul. In it Paul articulates a kind of three-fold expression of Christian experience. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” In other words, God is the source of our redemption but it is through Jesus Christ that this redemptive act is performed, and it is through the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts that we come to experience that redemptive action.

The doctrine of the Trinity is equally implicit in the Gospel for this day. We are at one of the so-called farewell discourses of Jesus prior to his crucifixion in St. John’s Gospel. Jesus says “When the spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all 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.” The revealing which Jesus brings is from the Father, and it is the function of the Spirit to take that revelation and make it meaningful to succeeding Christian generations. The Spirit doesn’t convey new independent revelation, but constantly kind of updates our understanding of the once and for all revelation of God in the Christ event

To me, the important thing to remember on this feast of the Holy Trinity is that we need to guard against the idea that the Holy Trinity is just a perplexing or complicated dogma intelligible only to theologians. The doctrine of the Trinity is simply the way the church has described Christian experience. For the fullness of Christian experience we hope for, and aspire to, is a relationship with God which includes the richness of revelation expressed in the three-fold way of knowing God.

Finally, it is in the community that shares that experience that we are nurtured in our relationship with God. That is why Baptism is in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The Most Rev’d Bruce Stavert, sometime Archbishop of Quebec (Ret’d), is an Associate of Holy Cross Priory, Toronto.

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