The Fruitfulness of the Trinity
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Ex 34:4b-6,8-9; (Ps) Dn 3:52-55; 2 Cor 13:11-13; Jn 3:16-18
Today, Trinity Sunday, we celebrate the central mystery of the Christian Faith. When we ask, “What is God?”, we answer that God is one. When we ask, “Who is God?”, we answer that God is three: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This mystery of One God and Three Persons is hidden in the Old Testament, like the sun shining behind a cloud. In the Book of Deuteronomy, for example, Moses refers to “the voice of the living God speaking from the heart of the fire,” where the ‘voice’, the ‘spoken word’ and the ‘fire’ are symbols of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit respectively. In the New Testament, the mystery of the Trinity is revealed openly. In the conclusion of today's Second Reading, St. Paul blesses his readers with a Trinitarian formula, like the Sign of the Cross, “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Yet, while Christians are prepared to accept the Trinity as central to our Faith, it is far harder to see the relevance of the Trinity to our lives. So in this brief homily I want to try to show is a little of the fruitfulness of our Faith in the Trinity. Merely to believe that there is one God is not enough, and the extraordinary fruitfulness of our civilization risks being lost if our Faith in the Trinity is lost.
So what is the fruitfulness of Faith in the Trinity? Well, whatever else may be said, to have Faith in the Trinity is believe that God is intrinsically personal and relational. One might say that personal relationships are ‘hard-wired’into God, but the truth is even stronger. Aquinas goes so far as to say that the Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the relations. Now this revelation that God is personal and relational underpins another crucial teaching. With Faith in the Trinity, we can affirm that “God is love,” for love consists of a desire for the good of another and desire for union with the other. This love is the very ‘substance’of God, and has great consequences for Christian relationships, especially in the family. The pagan families of ancient Rome were unified under the solitary and absolute power of the father, the paterfamilias. The modern, neo-pagan family is often, unfortunately, founded on some egocentric benefit, like pleasure or utility; consequently, when the benefit is removed, the family often dissolves. By contrast, the Christian family, or at least the ideal Christian family sustained by prayer and grace, is personal and relational, like the very nature of the God we worship. So two of the first fruits of Faith in the Trinity is the teaching that God is love and the Christian family.
A second kind of fruitfulness of the Trinity is in the arts. Many of the greatest works of art in history, such as the Sistine Chapel ceiling, are inspired by Christian themes and crafted by Christian artists. On a smaller scale, it is part of the Catholic tradition to decorate churches and public places with representational art, such as this beautiful church of St. Ambrose. Now this relationship between Christianity and art is not an accidental one but is also founded on the Trinity. Most monotheistic religions, that is, most religions that believe in one God, are suspicious of representational art. Some of them even forbid such art altogether. The reason for this is that these religions believe in the solitude of God, that any image of God will be imperfect and be a temptation to idolatry. As Christians, however, we have a true and perfect image of the invisible God. As today's Gospel says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because of the Trinity, because of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, Christianity is not afraid of representational art. On the contrary, the desire to express the Christian mysteries in this way has inspired artists in the most fruitful ways.
I argue that a third kind of fruitfulness of the Trinity is in the sciences, although the connection may be harder for us to see. The central notion of Western science is the idea that the universe is intelligible, that the work of the Creator has an order that our minds can grasp. Where does this belief come from? Well, as Christians we believe that what the Father has created is ordered and revealed by the Son, made incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is hard to exaggerate the effect of this teaching on the Western mind. As Christians, we do not believe that the cosmos is the disorderly playground of pagan gods or demonic forces. Nor do we believe that the universe is subject to the whim of a solitary and capricious ‘God’ without reason. We believe that the Creation was made, redeemed and is loved by the Most Holy Trinity, God revealed to us by Jesus Christ. This is, I believe, why Western science, with its clocks, order and a love of discovery, developed uniquely out of Europe in the high Middle Ages, while other civilizations stagnated or went backwards.
So Faith in the Trinity has been extraordinarily fruitful in our world. The idea that God is love, the Christian family, our arts and perhaps even our science are the just some of the fruits of belief in the Trinity, a belief that has shaped the Western mind since the coming of Christ. This Faith also increasingly shapes the lives of many other people throughout the world - even in places traditionally hostile to the Faith, such as China. I think it is important to appreciate this fruitfulness to understand what will be lost if belief in the Trinity is lost. Right now, in many countries, Christians are being persecuted and harassed out of public life by the aggressive followers of a monotheistic religion that rejects belief in the Trinity. Wherever these people succeed in overturning the Christian roots of a society, the fruits of Faith in the Trinity are also lost. So family relationships become based increasingly on power and fear, rather than love; representational art is discouraged or even forbidden, music is silenced and scientific discovery ceases.
So it is most important that we appreciate the wonderful richness of our Faith, especially our Faith in the Trinity. It is good to practice Trinitarian prayers, like the Sign of the Cross, and to ponder the mystery of the Trinity. It is also good to sanctify our homes and even, perhaps, our workplaces, with images derived from our Faith in the Trinity, such as the crucifix and other works of religious art. May God give us a deeper appreciation of the riches he has given to us in revealing himself, and may he bring us safely to everlasting life.
Fr. Andrew Pinsent, St. Ambrose Church, St. Louis, 18th May 2008
© Fr Andrew Pinsent. Academic Web Site.