We are a people who profess a faith in a God that has revealed God’s self as a Trinitarian God. In the history of the Church there were many who looked at the same Scriptures and denied that God was one, yet three divine persons. Back in the 4th century, a very large movement called the Arians said Jesus and the Holy Spirit were divine, but kind of a second- and third-tier God, divine but not as divine as the Father. The Sabellians held a belief that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three characterizations or modes of being one God, rather than three distinct “persons” in one God. They were also a pretty large group. A very small and short-lived group were the Pneumatomachians (“Spirit fighters”) – while accepting the divinity of Jesus Christ they denied that of the Holy Spirit which they saw as a creation of the Son, and a servant of the Father and the Son. These were all people who held the New Testament to be the Word of God.
What about people who believe God is one, yet do not accept our Scriptures. Good folks that kinda’ shake their head at the idea of a Trinitarian God. I imagined a conversation with a Jew and Muslim, both firm believers in the One True God, folks that would say “Yes, you Christians are children of Abraham, but my-oh-my, you do complicate things with a Trinune God. Let me ask you this, what is revealed about God in having God as Trinity rather than God as One. I’m not asking you to justify, or explain the Trinity, I just want to know what ‘something extra,’ what insight, what whatever, you get from this belief in God as Trinity.”
How would you begin to answer the question? I mean, this is Holy Trinity Sunday, right? It is a solemn celebration of the belief in the revelation of one God, yet three divine person. It is a day we set aside to especially acknowledge God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We think it is special enough to celebrate and all people what to know, is what is so special? I think that’s a really good question. Gather your thoughts.
Did you come up with any initial thoughts about how to answer the question posed by our imagined Jewish or Muslim friends? Our Franciscan tradition on this question was formed by St. Bonaventure who was privileged to read the works of his contemporary Hugo of St. Victor Abbey. Unlike others in the same age, Victor was able to read Greek and has access to the writings of the Cappadocian Fathers (Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus) from the 4th century – people who stood opposed to the heresies I mentioned earlier. Here is what Hugo understood – badly paraphrased by me.
Before the world and universe came to be, there was God; God who is love. What if God, in God’s interior life, is only One? What is our human experience of the one, that someone who loved only themselves to the exclusion of all others. Is that love? What if there are two? Two who loved each other, focusing their attention and intention on the other and only the other? What is our human experience of that? That all others are excluded? But what if there are three? Each focusing their attention and intention on the other – yet there are two others. As the love and attention moves and swirls unceasingly within the divine life, it is a perichoresis, a divine, intimate dancing within and through the other, that ultimately can not be contained and bursts out in creative love, creating the universe. Creating the universe because of a Triune God who is love. Hugo of St. Victor looked to the created world and intuitively understood that our world was created for and meant to be a reflection of the interior life of God, who had to be Triune.
Consider the work of the 15th century Russian painter, Alexi Rublev. The work is titled “Trinity.” A work commissioned for Trinity Cathedral in Sergius-Lavre. Rublev used the story of the three angelic visitors to Abraham and Sarah (from Gen 18) as his inspiration and followed the icon custom of his day to never directly depict God. And so he used the three angelic figures as presenting the three divine persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – the Triune God.
In the 500 years since Rublev painted his masterpiece what has always caught the eye of every generation is divine love on display as each of the figures gazes intently at another, that perichoresis, divine dancing within and through each other – an intense intimacy which characterizes the inner life of this Trinitarian love. Yet…and yet, there is opening, centered on the frame of the entire picture – an opening that is an on-going invitation.
That is what is revealed about the Trinitarian God – an understanding of the intense, creative love in the inner life of God – and that we are invited to life fully within it. We are invited to shape our lives as icons – lives that are loving, lives that are open and inviting – an individuals, families and as a worshipping community.
We are invited to the eternal divine dance, the perichoresis, and not just in the end of days. We are invited in the here and now. At the center of Rublev’s icon is the cup of the Eucharist. Each figure points to the cup. Each person of the Trinity welcoming and inviting us to their inner life through the grace of the Eucharist. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. His Son, Jesus, held nothing back, giving up his very life for us, become the Eucharist for us, that we might have life eternal.
It is as St. Augustine said about the Eucharist “See what you are, become what you see.” Iconic, loving, welcoming, inviting and loved.