Posts Tagged 'three persons'

For May 26, 2013: Trinity Sunday, Year C

The Reading            Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

The book of Proverbs is part of what Biblical scholars refer to as “wisdom literature”; it dispenses sound advice for Old Testament living. Today’s reading, however, is about Wisdom, personified here as God’s partner in creation. We of the New Testament know Wisdom as the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity.

The Response            Psalm 8

“O Lord our Governor, how exalted is your Name in all the world!”

The Epistle            Romans 5:1-5

Paul’s letter to the church at Rome has sometimes been called his most important theological work. Today’s short but rich reading may well be the core of it: we have peace with God and ourselves not through our own efforts but because the incredible love of God gives us hope.

The Gospel            John 16:12-15

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”


Further thoughts

First, a disclaimer: for a theological explanation of the doctrine of the Trinity, please consult a theologian. What I can offer here is my grammatical workaround of using plural pronouns and agreement forms for singular God, as in “God are Love, and where true love is, / God Themselves are there.”

I was inspired to this in youth by T.H. White’s witty and heartrending book The Once and Future King. Toward the end of the first part, just before the Sword in the Stone reveals young Wart as King Arthur, Merlyn the magician sends him out for his last lesson among the animals. A badger tells him a story of Creation in which all the animals looked exactly like embryos until God allowed them to choose adaptations such as claws or teeth or thick hides or wings. All made their choices—except for Man, last of all, whose response begins, “Please God, I think that you have made me in the shape I now have for reasons best known to Yourselves, and it would be rude to change…” This turns out to have been precisely the right answer. God replied,

“As for you, Man, you will be a naked tool all your life, though a user of tools. You will look like an embryo till they bury you, but all the others will be embryos before your might. Eternally undeveloped, you will always remain potential in Our image, able to see some of Our sorrows and to feel some of Our joys. We are partly sorry for you, Man, but partly hopeful.”

This is, please note, one God, yet plural. It is possible that White intended a sort of “royal We”, but it resonates with me differently. Though I still quite naturally try to reduce God to human scale, the slight strangeness of “God are…” in my mouth keeps me mindful of God as human and more than human, and the plural verbs and pronouns avoid assigning God exclusive maleness, instead encompassing maleness and femaleness (and probably much more in addition). God as singular plural also reminds me of the eternal fellowship enjoyed by God, as suggested by the Old Testament reading, a depth of mutual knowing and being known whose fullness is quite beyond the grasp of humankind here and now; it is the fellowship for which, through Christ, the apostle Paul says we have such hope; and just as surely the fellowship for whose stunning loss on earth Jesus in today’s gospel was gently but relentlessly preparing his disciples and friends to grieve.

For June 3, 2012: Trinity Sunday, Year B

The Reading            Isaiah 6:1-8

Trinity Sunday readings give us several pictures of God—and of ourselves. In today’s reading from the book of Isaiah, merely the hem of the Lord’s robe overwhelms the grand temple that Solomon built; the air is full of the smoke of holiness; the magnificent seraphim praise the Lord in voices that rock the temple. Yet even a puny human has a vital mission.

The Response            Canticle 13

The Epistle            Romans 8:12-17

In today’s epistle, Paul reminds us that we cannot save ourselves: we are saved through the Spirit. Here are two more pictures of God: the Spirit of God impels us to recognize in the Sovereign of the Universe, Isaiah’s transcendent Lord, our Abba—the approachable and loving Daddy of All Daddies.

The Gospel            John 3:1-17


Further thoughts

On the Sunday after Pentecost we celebrate the Trinity. The word comes from the Latin trinitas, which can be translated roughly as ‘the state of being three-fold’.

The doctrine developed in the early centuries of the first millennium, resulting (after a great deal of controversy) in the Nicene Creed that we recite almost every Sunday:

• We believe that God has and is one being: God is indivisible
• We believe that God has and is three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
• We believe that each of the persons is truly and fully God: uncreated,  coeternal, and coequal

It’s a complicated and subtle doctrine that has sprouted its share of controversy over the centuries.

St Patrick is said to have explained the Trinity by analogy to a shamrock. Just as a shamrock is made up of three leaves each of which is equal in size to the others, so also God is One in essence but made up of three distinct Persons each of which is equal to the other. The shamrock analogy breaks down rather quickly: a shamrock’s leaves really and truly are separate, so the shamrock doesn’t lose its essential “shamrockiness” if one of its leaves is removed, and the three leaves together aren’t the whole of the plant. Furthermore, each leaf would somehow need to be both containing and contained by the other three leaves, in the botanical and theological equivalent of an M.C. Escher drawing—and that’s almost as big challenge to visualize as is the doctrine of Trinity itself.

What may be more important is what the doctrine of the Trinity means for us. God is one God, but because the persons are distinct, each has a personality and a will. Because each has a personality and a will, each can love. Each can and does love the others, as only God can love—indeed, each is love for the other, as God is love. Thus the persons of God are in the perfect relationship: fully known and fully knowing, fully been with and fully being with, fully loved and fully loving. God is a relational God, and so we are also made to be relational: to love God as fully as we can and to love each other as fully as we can, for where true love is, God is.

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