Trinity Sunday, Year C
This is not a full text, but extensive notes.
Today is Trinity Sunday, the First Sunday after Pentecost, the first Sunday in that long liturgical season we call, alternately, Pentecost or Ordinary time. All other Sundays of the year, we remember and celebrate a person – Jesus – or an event in Jesus’ life, such as his Resurrection and Baptism. But on this one Sunday each year, we remember and celebrate an idea, a religious doctrine – the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
Over the years, I’ve usually dumped on Nancy the task of preaching Trinity, but this year she managed to get some minor surgery scheduled, which is why she is not here this morning. It’s a challenge for a preacher, to try to lay out this doctrine for people in 15 minutes or less. Even more challenging is to help you sense why you should even care about this odd feature of Christian proclamation, and what it might mean for your day in and day out living of your faith.
St. Augustine of Hippo, the 4th century bishop of Hippo in what is modern day Libya, considered probably the greatest Christian theologian, captured the problem nicely:
“Not to think about the Trinity is to risk heresy. To think about the Trinity is to risk lunacy.”
So, for a few minutes this morning, think with me about the Trinity. Let’s risk a little lunacy for the sake of keeping ourselves safely out of heresy.
And we have a visual aid!
Please look with me at the white paper insert in your bulletins. Last week, I preached to you about an odd Greek word, paraklates, the word John’s gospel uses for the Holy Spirit. Today, you get to learn another arcane Greek word, perichoresis. Perichoresis is the term early Christians coined to try to describe the mechanics, if you will, the inner workings of the Triune Godhead.
You won’t find this word anywhere in the Bible. Because neither the word, nor a developed doctrine of Trinity, can be found in the Bible. Early Christians came to discern the Trinity in constellations of texts and experiences like those in today’s Scriptures.
The first visual aid. This is the classic rendering of perichoresis.
But here is where lunacy begins. All of us learned a simple mathematical formula if A=B, B=C, then A=C, the transitive property of equality. Trinity violates. And so, someone in the fifth or sixth century authored the Quicumque Vult, also known as the Athanasian Creed.
The second visual aid. Further fleshing out.
From the Creed of Saint Athanasius.
Page 864 in the Prayer Book
Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith.
Which Faith, except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.
For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost.
The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate.
The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.
The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal.
And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal.
As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.
So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty.
And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty.
So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God.
And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.
So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord.
And yet not three Lords, but one Lord.
For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be both God and Lord,
So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion, to say, There be three Gods, or three Lords.
The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten.
The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten.
The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.
And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other; none is greater, or less than another;
But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal.
So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.
He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.
But if you can read this and not begin to go crazy, you’re better than I am. Most of us stop thinking here, and that’s when we usually fall into heresy.
Modalism – most Americans, not wanting to think about this too much, but wanting some precision. Most classic form is to describe water – ice, liquid, steam. Or Keith, Father, husband, priest. Sort of, but not quite. Make most Christians explain the Trinity, and they mumble some kind of modalism. Fortunately, we don’t burn such people at the stake anymore.
What do we do? How do we make sense of this? How do we avoid heresy without going crazy?
Well, maybe we need to alter our notion of what it means to “think about the Trinity?” Instead of “thinking” as defining and explaining, maybe we should be about “contemplation” and “experience.”
Third visual aid. The Celtic Love Knot
When missionary monks travelled to Ireland, they had to explain this Trinity business to some pretty wild and wooly Celtic pagans. As the monks talked, the Celts miraculously signaled that they knew what the monks were talking about. For thousands of years, they had worshipped a goddess with three faces. They showed the monks her runic representation, the Celtic love knot, and the monks recognized there a beautiful symbol of the Trinity they were trying to explain.
Trinity as poetry. Trinity as metaphor. Trinity as lived experience and observance of nature.
Perichoresis – Peri= circle. Choreo = make space. English word we get from Choreo = choreography. Dance. Perichoresis visualizes a circle dance.
Does that explain the Trinity to you? Probably not. You are a 21st century American. Our intellectual world is formed by lawyers, accountants, engineers, and scientiests. We are people who want, who need, precision and exactitude.
The Trinity is perichoresis. Dancing in a circle. It is poetry in motion. It is meant not to be dissected and defined, but to be experienced and sung.
We can never allow ourselves to stop contemplating the Trinity, for then we fall into heresy. We have to avoid trying to explain and define the Trinity, for then we will fall into lunacy.
Instead, on this Trinity Sunday, I invite you to take these aids home. To sit with them. To contemplate them. To look out your window at the drama of creation. To look into yourself at the miracle of your existence. To look into the Bible and experience its playful uncertainty. And to hear in all this God’s eternal invitation to join the the Trinity, the perichoresis. To dance with God.