Trinity

The great Christian writer Frederick Buechner said that “Theology is the study of God and his ways. For all we know, dung beetles may study man and his ways and call it humanology. If so, we would be more touched and amused than irritated. One hopes that God feels likewise…”.

Every year on the Sunday after Pentecost, we celebrate a feast unique to the Church, Trinity Sunday. It’s unique because Trinity Sunday celebrates a doctrine, rather than someone or some event. Most feasts are things like the feast of the Nativity or the feast of the Assumption, historical events that we remember as a community, the community those events in which those things happened, or they’re feasts like tomorrow’s feast of St. Vincent of Lerins, who was a Priest who died in AD 450. Vincent wrote a book called the Commonitory to provide himself, as he states, with a general rule whereby to distinguish Catholic truth from heresy; and he commits what he has learnt, he adds, to writing, that he may have it by him for reference as a Commonitory, or Remembrancer, to refresh his memory. Vincent also defended calling Mary, mother of Jesus, Theotokos (“God-bearer”) which opposed the teachings of Patriarch Nestorius of Constantinople, an action that could have gotten him killed.1 And so we remember saints like Vincent with a liturgical commemoration, not only to honor them but to remember for ourselves those who came before us in the Faith and to be refreshed by their example.

But Trinity Sunday celebrates not a person or an event, but a doctrine. But the Trinity is a Person, you might add, and you would be smart to do so, but Trinity is not His Name but rather His nature, and so doctrine it is.

The doctrine of the Trinity is tougher to nail down than any other doctrine of the Church. “As any Jehovah’s Witness can tell you, the word “Trinity” appears nowhere in the Bible. What’s more, nowhere in the New Testament do we get anything approaching a systematic presentation of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity as it has come down to us from the tradition of the Church via Nicea and Chalcedon.” But the Trinity can be found in Scripture, of course, and the Church gives us our passage from the Gospel according to John to help us on our way.

“John 16 certainly is not very systematic in this way, either. However, what can escape no one’s notice is that the Son is here talking about both his Father and the Spirit as discrete persons who can be distinguished from himself. What’s more, the unity of these three persons—and the tighter than tight bonds that exist particularly between Father and Son but also among Father, Son, and Spirit—is vividly on display. These are, to invoke language reminiscent of Trinitarian theology, three persons who can be distinguished but not separated. What each person does first and foremost is to bring to the world the things collectively shared by the three.”2

I remember back about fifteen years ago, there was a young woman who was a parishioner at St. James in Long Branch; she looked a bit like an extra from the Austin Powers movies, like she was teleported from 1969. She was a troubled young woman, had been homeless for a time, but she spent a great deal of time attempting to understand her situation and to find God. By that I mean she was really trying to identify God as He identifies Himself, to know Him in the way that say, the great mystic St. Catherine of Siena knew Him. This young woman was fond of saying that much of her prayer wasn’t directed at thanking God for something He did or spent asking Him for things that she needed, but rather just praising God for being God, just for being.

I think that’s a big part of Trinity Sunday, just praising God for being who He is, greatly and incomprehensibly one God in three Persons, a God who is both revealed to us and known to us, and yet completely beyond our mental capacity to understand Him. And so we begin again today to praise and glorify God for His sheer existence, His otherness from us, one God, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, blessed Trinity.

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