By Chip Prehn
The Church the world over celebrated the Feast of the Holy Trinity on Sunday, May 30th. What used to be called “the season after Trinity” takes the Church all the way to the First Sunday of Advent. Most altar guilds, grateful that they don’t have to change the fabric very often during these months, call it “the long green season.” Nowadays, the Sundays and weeks comprising the old season “after Trinity” are called the season “after Pentecost.” I tend to favor the older nomenclature, as this was the Church’s practice for centuries, but since the 1970s, we have made do with the change.
The Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity is a proposition of divine revelation. We would not know that God is a holy and undivided Trinity unless God himself revealed it to us. No human genius could have come up with such a dogma. God created this mystery or (we should say) God is the mystery, since God is eternal and not created. The doctrine is part of the substance of saving faith. Trusted authority asks us to believe it; grace enables us to believe it; and we are saved. But this does not mean that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is irrational. When we think on it, the doctrine is entirely reasonable.
The Scriptural record is clear even without the graphic use of the Trinitarian formula at the end of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus who was and is God constantly spoke of his Father who is God, and God the Father and God the Son sent God the Holy Spirit to witness to the truth and reality of God the Son. When Jesus was baptized by John, the Father’s voice was heard, and this voice revealed that Jesus was God’s Son. The Holy Spirit sent from Father and Son also has the job of giving to the persons and peoples living in the Son — a.k.a. the Church catholic — the kind of unity enjoyed by the Members of the divine Trinity themselves. The Holy Spirit enables the Church to do amazing things in this world, loving the world being the most amazing of all. Inasmuch as you and I are living in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit (“by grace you were saved through faith in Jesus Christ”), we too are by grace part of the life of the Holy Trinity, and I mean this is true already and right now.
How can the one God of the Old Testament who created the universe be likewise three divine persons? Isn’t this polytheism? For sure, the questions address a perplexing matter. But the doctrine of the Trinity satisfies the intellect in surprising ways, if the Bible is taken seriously. God is able by his very divine nature to love perfectly, and so God has Another of an equal nature and rank to love: God the Father and God the Son are therefore necessary to each other. What is irrefutable in logic has its correlative in ultimate Reality. The Father loves the Son; the Son returns the Father’s love; and the Love exchanged between the Father and the Son is none other than God the Holy Spirit. Ultimate Reality (God) is a community of three divine persons. One God in three persons.
One of the most faithful and best thinkers who ever called himself a member of our Anglican Communion was an Oxford don named Aubrey Moore (1848-1890). As we Christians approach the more difficult mysteries of the Faith, Moore provides a kind of warning in the form of a maxim: the few fundamental dogmas upon which the Faith is based are not true because they appeal to the reason; rather, they appeal to the reason because they are true. Human reason is not a neutral substance found in human minds. Reason is made to correspond to the truth when the truth is discovered or revealed. When the mind gets itself familiar with and wrapped around reality, that is reason and truth. Anything else is fancy or fantasy. What we have in the New Testament are testimonies of what is true.
When it comes to the sometimes-difficult doctrine of the Trinity, I like how an Anglican monk once talked about the subject. Richard Meux Benson (1824-1915), founder of the Cowley Fathers, said in a sermon on Trinity Sunday in 1865, “It is not so much for us to understand the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as to understand ourselves as being taken up into the Life of the Holy Trinity.” There we are, even now!
Chip Prehn is a partner of Dudley & Prehn Educational Consultants. He is an Episcopal priest, an independent historian, and a writer. Prehn serves St. Mark’s Church, Coleman, Texas, as part-time vicar.