In the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is Trinity Sunday. Trinity Sunday is always the Octave day of Pentecost. This means that Trinity Sunday somehow completes Pentecost, and brings it to a proper conclusion.
Today the Church asks us to consider God the Holy Trinity, and for good reason. Listen to the opening words of the Athanasian Creed – one of the three great Creeds of the first millennium that are the patrimony of all Christians. The Athanasian Creed is the most detailed of the three great statements of the Christian faith. It says this about the Holy Trinity:
“Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity, and trinity in Unity; neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.”
The Holy Trinity is one of the two great mysteries at the center of Christian faith (the other centering on the incarnation, how it is that Jesus Christ can be both perfect God and perfect man at one and the same time). In considering the doctrine of the Trinity, it is good to remind ourselves that, as St. Paul says, God dwells in “unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6.16), and that in consequence, discursive theology can only proceed so far before it falls silent and becomes contemplation – that speculation must in the end give way to worship. It is also important to say, however, that we cannot skip straight away to contemplation, but that we must first pass through the discourse of theology, we must learn which God is worthy of worship. We must also say that that the mysteries of Christian theology are data of faith – they are “givens” (=data) revealed by God himself.
The Athanasian Creed (BCP p. 864) goes a ways towards laying out what we may say with respect to the Trinity, and explications of Trinitarian theology, per se, have been fruitful in the course of Christian history. But the utter, transcendent mystery of the thing notwithstanding, as the Athanasian Creed says: we worship one God in three persons. And so, as is usually my preference on Trinity Sunday, I would like to talk not so much about what it means for God to be a Trinity of persons in Unity of being, but what it means for us to worship such a God.
The great 14th century English mystic Julian of Norwich experienced a vision in which God revealed himself to her. Julian says the following about her vision. This is from her great work the “Showings,” and we encountered this passage recently in a homily at one of our daily masses. Julian writes:
“And from the time that [the vision] was shown, I desired often to know what our Lord’s meaning was. And fifteen years and more afterward I was answered in my spiritual understanding, thus: ‘Would you know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who showed it to you? Love. What did he show you? Love. Why did he show it? For love. Keep yourself therein and you shall know and understand more in the same. But you shall never know nor understand any other thing, forever.
“Thus I was taught that love was our Lord’s meaning. And I saw quite clearly in this and in all, that before God made us, he loved us…”
God is all about love. This we know from the first Epistle of St. John, who says it very simply: God is love. Thus we know that whatever else the Holy Trinity may be, the Holy Trinity is love. The Father eternally begets the Son in love, and therefore the Father is eternally Father, and the Son eternally Son, and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from both by being the love that is the act of eternal begetting and eternally being-begotten (cf. Augustine in De Trinitate).
And this is the preeminent way in which God is revealed to us as love: God reveals to us the love that obtains eternally between the three persons of the Godhead: the Father eternally begets the Son in love, and the Son eternally returns the love of his Father. And indeed a consistent theme among the fathers of the Church is that the love that exists between the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit. St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest theologians of all time says this:
“…Love proceeds from the lover into the beloved… the Father loves the Son and” the Son loves the Father…… and “the Holy Spirit is the love of the Father into the Son and” of the Son into the Father. [Commentary on the Sentences, Distinction 10]
As Julian of Norwich said: before God made us, he loved us. Before God made you, he loved you. As the Psalmist prayed: “[O Lord,] Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb; all of them were written in your book…” Another great 14th century mystic, Meister Eckhart, describes the inner life of God as a frothing or boiling of love, and he says that we are made by God from the boiling-over of the love that is God’s inner life. It is God’s nature to create, because his nature is love. As surely – or more surely – as the natural end of the love between a man and a woman is the bringing forth of new life in the procreation of children, so creation itself is the supernatural end of the love that is the inner life of the Holy Trinity. Why did God create us? It is his nature to create. Because he is love.
And I am afraid we become increasingly deaf to this, God’s NATURAL self-description, the more we, as a culture and as a species, the more we artificially and scientistically (sic) separate procreation from human sexuality. However much we may rage against the fact, the begetting of children is the NATURAL end of human sexuality – because it is in the nature of love to be creative.
And we see the love of God revealed perfectly in his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Again, First John says “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” And the life that he gives us to live is the life of love. For this reason the Father sent the Son, to restore us to the union of divine love. And as the Son returns to the Father, the Holy Spirit is sent to us at Pentecost to confirm and conform us in that union of eternal love. This is that for which we were made – and the realization of our purpose, the attainment of the love of God, is the wellspring of our truest happiness, whether we are capable of realizing it or not: the completion of our joy can only be found in God, in our being caught up into the communion-in-love that is the very being of the Holy Trinity.
St. John Chrysostom, a great teacher of the faith from the fourth century, says this:
“The Unity of the Godhead, the Three Persons in One God, is not a barren truth in any sense; the devout consideration of it promotes unity in us. Our Lord’s prayer for Christians to the Father is, ‘that they may be one as We are One.’ All love, all harmony, all union, worthy of the Name, is in the knowledge of the Three Persons and One God.”
There is a popular feeling these days that dogma is unpleasant. That is merely a cause for rancor and division among people. That if we could just get rid of believing-in-stuff, we would all be able to get along. Nothing could be further from the Christian truth – the truest truth. True solidarity, true communion, true fellowship, togetherness, fraternity – this is a gift given to us in the gift of God’s own life. And conversely, all feelings of solidarity and community apart from God ultimately prove chimerical.
The three-personed God wants to draw us in, to seduce us, to share with us the inner life of eternal love and mutual self-giving that he is. That is the meaning of Trinity Sunday: That God loves us; that his love is such that he was unwilling that we should be separated from him, unwilling that we should die in our sin. So he sends his only Son, whom he loves, to reveal his love by giving his life for us and to us. And then he sends us his Spirit, the very Love that constitutes the eternal and mutual self-giving relationship of Father and Son, the very Love that is itself God – he sends us the Spirit to teach us, to bring this self-disclosure to our remembrance, and to confirm us in what is the proper possession of the Father and the Son, as Jesus says: the Spirit of Truth “will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” We have been given the Holy Spirit to teach and confirm us in divine love, in the life of God himself. And by the way, God’s is not a weak love that is content to let us have what we think we want. As I have often said, God’s motto is NOT “live and let live.” No. God loves us too much to leave us alone. Scripture says that this God-who-is-Love is a CONSUMING FIRE. This God-who-is-Love is a God who disciplines his children, wounds and flees from his lover, prunes his vineyard, burns his gold, and smashes his vessels. God’s message to us is, “die to yourself, that you may have life in me.” His love for us will pierce and burn us through, it will purge us of those things that keep us from blessedness, from life and peace and joy in union with him. If only we will let it. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God – but God never forces himself on anyone.
Again, St. Chrysostom writes:
“What, therefore, is the point we are taught, the one chief lesson which the Church would inculcate on us this day? We live under the dispensation of the Spirit, and it is, I think, this—that if we would live in the Spirit, would wait and pray for and seek His guidance, it will bring us more and more to the love of Christ, as revealed to us so fully in the Gospels. There we read of Him; we hear Him, as it were, and see Him; He is manifested to us as the Son of Man, our example, our advocate, the Sacrifice for us; in His parables and precepts, in His miracles of mercy, and His daily life, we have Him, as it were, before us; it is to the love of Him, and obedience to Him, to His likeness, the Holy Spirit must conform our unruly wills and affections.”
In your prayer life, invite the Holy Spirit to come to you. Ask God that you may live in the Spirit and by this power. Seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to confirm you in what is God’s own possession, namely his love. Turn meekly to God, without pretension, looking on Christ in love and gratitude, contrition and humility – the humility borne of facing yourself honestly, of taking stock of your life and offering it humbly to God, and trusting Him to work in you in whatever ways are necessary to effect your blessedness – that you may be brought at the last to the blessedness of communion in the inner life of God, the eternal love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.