It’s That Darn Trinity Sunday Again

The advantage of serving a church in New York was that Trinity Sunday could usually be dumped off on a seminarian.  The advantage of being retired is that Trinity Sunday can usually be ducked.  There were many years in between where I had to face it dead on.  What do you suppose inspired the Church to dedicate a Sunday to a doctrine, especially one as squishy as this one?
Our regular Tuesday morning lectionary study group met this morning to work over the lessons for Trinity Sunday, and, as usual, each of us fell into one heresy or another trying to find the right way to explain the Trinity to congregations in a variety of denominations.  I doubt that any of them will care very much what any of us has to say, nor will they remember it as one of the great sermons of the year.  
To be sure, we Christians know and understand God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Scripture, tradition and our own experiences reveal God to us in just these ways.  At the same time, the Church has never been able to pin down the doctrine of the Trinity in such precise language as to satisfy everyone, or even anyone.  Glimmers of brilliantly illuminated insight quickly dissipate.  The Nicene Creed is all but incomprehensible to the average person sitting in the pew, and in many denominations it is not known at all.  The Chalcedonian definition reads like a Jackie Mason monologue.  The Holy Spirit is an afterthought in one and ignored in the other.  No wonder other religions accuse us of being polytheists.  
One of the problems is our hubris at not only trying to define who God is but of insisting that God be bound by our very human constructs of what a Trinity should look like and how it should behave.  We would be better served by simply declaring that, through Christ, God has been made known to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, without trying to define it any farther than that.  Speaking for myself, I like to think that I am a rather orthodox Nicene Christian whose understanding of the Trinity was more fully informed by the late Katherine Mowry LaCugna (God for Us: The Trinity & Christian Life; 1991, Harper Collins).  The fact is that orthodox as I might claim to be and try as I might, I cannot hold a comprehensive unified view of the Trinity in my head.  One “person” or the other keeps popping out as a rather unique individual existing within a hierarchy at that.  How embarrassing!  And so it gratifies me when LaCugna writes: “The doctrine of the Trinity is more like a signpost pointing beyond itself to the God who dwells in light inaccessible. …Ultimately, the only appropriate response to the mystery of God revealed in the economy is adoration.”
Therefore, my recommendation for Sunday’s sermon is to joyfully sink into the mystery of God that has been made known to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit: ever with us, ever for us, ever in us.  Try not to explain too much.  By all means, avoid attempts at profundity.  Some apocryphal bishop is said to have been asked by a young priest what he should preach about on Trinity Sunday.  The answer was to preach about five minutes and sit down.  Good advice.

5 thoughts on “It’s That Darn Trinity Sunday Again”

  1. \”We would be better served by simply declaring that, through Christ, God has been made known to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, without trying to define it any farther than that.\”Oh yes, thank you very much – where do I sign up to join and declare this version of The Trinity?:)

  2. On the Trinity: St. Jerome, well-known as the most learned but having the bitterest, funniest wit of the Latin Church Fathers, said about the definition of the Trinity put out by one of the church councils, \”They have crucified the Father and expelled the Holy Ghost.\” Probably he meant that their definition confused the Father and the Son and ignored the Holy Ghost? Of course, both Jews and Muslims think that Christians are really polytheists, because of the doctrine of the Trinity, though the Muslims usually think that the Christian Trinity is God,Jesus and the Virgin Mary! Rather understandible! Dr B

  3. seems to me that while great theological conversations about the nature of the Trinity are ones I enjoy, preferably with a glass of my favorite beverage in hand, the preachers task is to ask \”so what?\” So what difference does this make for us in our lives, in our living, in the world today. Deep discussions of the nature of the Trinity matter less than trying to understand why God being Trinity might actually mean something to how we live.

  4. Rabbi Marc Gellman, whose column is carried locally in the local newspaper, was asked about whether those of one religion could participate in the prayers of another religion, recently. His response was a guarded yes, with reservations regarding Jews in Christian prayers invoking the Trinity (or Christ as Messiah) or the Muslim prayer (the shahadah) basic to Islam, that Mohammed is the prophet of God. The University of Utah cusomarily invited local religious leaders to the commencement annually, from several faiths. Both the faculty and the students graduating were of various faiths, including atheists, though the majority were Mormon. Mormons do not usually invoke the Trinity, but rather \”in the name of Jesus Christ\”, and did so at the ceremony. Bishop Charles of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah carefully (and tactfully)avoided both his customary reference to Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and in fact, to any words that would be specifically even Christian! (Later, Bishop Charles became Dean of the Episcopal Seminary in Cambridge, Mass.,where he faced the problem of the female seminarians refusing to attend chapel, citing male bias of the Church! He told me that later.) Dr B

Leave a Reply