This Sunday is the solemnity of the Holy Trinity. This dogmatic feast comes in the aftermath of Pentecost, the apogee of the Paschal Mystery, and confesses what we have seen: the absolute revealation of God through the Incarnation of His Word and the coming of His Spirit. Like someone standing in dizzy amazement at the edge of a new and massive crater formed by the crashing of an unexpected meteor, the Church stops today to look back at the whole Paschal season and say: “What was that?”
What? It is the Mystery of all mysteries! It is the deepest secret of God! It is the revelation that unity in the one God means not solitary existence but a oneness of consubstantial communion as Father, Son and Spirit. Tertullian, in the 3rd century, coined a new Latin word, Trinitas, from the word trinus, meaning “threefold.” A new word had to be created to bear the weight of this mystery. A new confession of faith: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the One is Three.”
But how could this be? Just thought as I asked this question: Mary asked this same question in Luke 1:35 and Gabriel’s answer was to reveal and invite her into an intimate unity with the Trinitarian mystery.
The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.
And to the same Trinity who at the dawn of creation said, “let there be…” she said, “let it be done to me.” And by her consent, all humanity could now receive this same invitation.
Human beings are the original crater in creation, the stamp of divinity in matter, so let’s pause there for just a moment. The two-in-one-flesh union of Adam and Eve makes clear that in Jewish metaphysics oneness does not a preclude in its definition a plurality of persons. Compare Genesis 2:24 that says of the man and woman that “two become one” (one=e·ḥāḏ) with Deuteronomy’s 6:4 “YHWH is one” (one=e·ḥāḏ). This opens an intelligible space in divine revelation for union as communion, unity as community and for God as Three-in-One. Furthermore, Genesis 1:27 amplifies this “space” as it makes clear that only as male and female together is the fullness of the divine image to be found. To use the beautiful metaphor found in Genesis 2:22, the divine image is made complete when the face of the woman is turned toward the face of the man by the God whom we come to find out, in Christ, is Himself Face turned toward Face (John 1:1 “the Word was toward God [pros theon]” who calls all humanity into that same interfacing unity of love (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Here we can see that God’s Trinitarian identity is not some esoteric doctrine requiring bizarre leaps of pseudo-mathematical logic or a suspension of disbelief in the face of contradictions. Rather, the theo-logic of Trinity is inscribed into the DNA of humanity. The Trinitarian stamp is found in the tensions we live every day, between difference and oneness, diversity and unity, solitude and communion, etc. And these are tensions that not only define human social existence but also structure the entire cosmic order. The unity of our known uni-verse subsists within a vast interrelated and irreducible plurality. Each particularity can only be understood in its relation to everything else that exists.
Back in 1994, a biologist at Florida State took me, and a group of others, on a trip into the Okefenokee Swamp in south Georgia to explore the swamp’s wild biodiversity. At one point, as we were out in the middle of the swamp, he began describing the fragility of the ecosystem, explaining that when one small part of that system is disrupted its effects are felt everywhere. He said, “the swamp is like one great living organism, with its own personality and unique biorhythms. Its beauty can’t be fully appreciated until it’s seen in the context of the whole, until you can see its complexity, its organic unity that makes it act as if it were one great living thing.” As if nature wished to punctuate his point with an exclamation, a lightning bolt suddenly struck the water a few hundred yards away from our boat. I thought I was a dead man.
The unity-in-diversity of the Trinitarian God is ineffable, meaning it is beyond the reach of finite reason to fully comprehend because God is beyond all of the time-space categories that constitute the defining limits of the human mind. Also, the Trinitarian nature of God as Father, Son and Spirit had to be revealed by God precisely because it is a personal mystery, and the mystery of a person, by definition, can only be known by a free personal act of self-disclosure. I must choose to disclose the mystery of who I am in my inmost self. Keeping those caveats of mystery in mind, we still must say that the mystery of the Trinity is not remote, absurd, irrelevant or illogical, but rather it coincides in the most profound way with the deepest elements of human experience. Especially the experience of human solidarity brought on by the exigencies of love.
There’s no mistake that just before the profession of the Nicene Creed, the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom has the Deacon say, “Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess” and the faithful respond, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity, one in essence and undivided.” Only the unifying power of love lived out in the world with our lives makes us worthy and able to confess the Trinity in the liturgy with our lips.
Origen of Alexandria once said, “The Church is full of the Trinity.” Yes! But let me also add that the whole of creation is full of the Trinity, filled with traces and vestiges marked by Their life-giving holy Communion.
How blessed are we to know that Mystery intimately, face to face, and to be invited to dive into that mystery through Christ and in the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father. O mes Trois! “O my Three!” Amen.
St. Gregory of Nazianzus, help me praise.
Glory to God the Father
and to the Son who reigns over all.
Glory to the Spirit, All-Holy,
to whom praise is fitting.
This is the Single God, the Trinity,
who created all things that are;
who filled the heavens with spiritual beings,
the land with earthly creatures,
the oceans, rivers, springs,
with all aquatic living things.
Out of his own Spirit he gives life
to all that lives
so that all created life can sing out praise
to the wisdom of the Maker;
that single cause of their existence,
their continuing subsistence.
But more than all other things,
and in all things,
rational nature must sing out
that he is the Great King, Good Father.
And so, my Father, grant to me
in spirit and in soul, in heart and voice,
in purity of heart
to give you the glory. Amen.
Help me, Colleen: