Wednesday, 15 June 2022

The Trinity is not a mystery

 Reflection at Morning Worship with the Community of Brtendan the Navigator on Tuesday 14th June 2022

Last Sunday was Trinity Sunday, the day we celebrate our understanding that the God we worship is one God, but three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Jews and Muslims, our fellow monotheist ‘peoples of the book’, vehemently reject the idea of God as Trinity – they allege that Christians do not really believe in one God, but in three Gods. Even some Christians find it puzzling. How can one God possibly be divided into three persons? Surely 1 + 1 + 1 = 3?

Over the centuries Christian apologists have answered this question in different ways. We have all heard how St Patrick illustrated the Trinity with the trefoil-leaf of a shamrock – three leaflets within the one leaf. John Wesley said: ‘Tell me how it is that in this room there are three candles and but one light, and I will explain to you the mode of divine existence’. And it is true in mathematics that if you add three infinities the result is still infinity. But I personally don’t find such arguments helpful. The Catechism of the RC Church says that ‘God’s inmost being as Holy Trinity is a mystery that is inaccessible to reason alone’. But to leave it at that seems like a fudge to me.

Very early on Christians came to believe that the one God they worshipped was manifest in three different ways, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But they struggled to understand the relationships between their Lord Jesus Christ, the loving Creator whom Jesus addressed as ‘Father’, and the Spirit of truth whom Jesus asked the Father to send to his disciples.

By the 4th century the Church had captured the imperial Roman state. Amid power struggles in the church, dogmatic theologians were arguing bitterly over what the Trinity really meant. These disputes were eventually settled at a Council of Bishops, convened in Constantinople by the Emperor Theodosius in 381AD, which defined the doctrine of the Trinity in the words of a creed, which we still use in the Holy Communion service. Almost all Christians, including Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and the Anglican Communion maintain that this is still the best way to think about God.

It is not hard to understand the historical reasons why Christians came to believe in God as Trinity. But I do not think that our belief, that God is best understood as Trinity, should rest only on the words of scripture and the partisan arguments of Church Councils more than 1600 years ago. I believe that divine revelation did not cease when the last full stop was written in the last book of scripture. God continues to reveal himself in his creation. In the world around me I see signs of our Trinitarian God everywhere.

I see the Loving Father in the beauty of the universe he created. He has precisely tuned the fundamental physical constants to support the miraculous, evolving web of life on our planet. He has made it to be a place where you and I and all creatures can flourish and be fed, if we would only tend and care both for it and for our neighbours, as we ought.

I see the Saving Son in the widespread altruism that exists in the natural world. I see him in communities of living creatures, including ourselves, in which each part depends on others to flourish mutually. I see him in the worker bee’s dedication to raising a sister’s brood. I see him in the three-cornered dance of insects, fruit trees and seed dispersing animals. I see him in the cycles of death and resurrection that drive evolution. And I see him in our human capacity to love our neighbours as ourselves – even if we often fail to do so.

I see the Holy Spirit in the continual innovation of living creatures and ecosystems through evolution. I see him at work exploring new expressions of what is possible in the arts and the sciences. And I see him inspiring human beings, in all their variety, with their different gifts, to come together to make the world and their societies more like the kingdom of heaven.

We should not, I think, see the doctrine of the Trinity as very difficult or a great mystery, but rather as something very natural. It is very simple really – but also very profound.



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