Trinity Sunday

May 26, 2013
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Reading 2: 
Psalm 8
Reading 3: 
Romans 5:1-5
Reading 4: 
John 16:12-15
By Ignacio Castuera

Christopher Bryant tells a story about C. G. Jung that ought to inform the way preachers deal with the subject of the Trinity:

Jung tells us of an incident causing him acute disappointment when his father was preparing him for confirmation. His father’s instructions were based on a catechism. The young Carl looking ahead at the syllabus waited impatiently for the time when they would reach the section dealing with the doctrine of the Trinity, which fascinated him. When at last the point was reached his father said, “We will pass over this section, it is not important, and I can make nothing of it myself.” With that remark the boy’s hopes were dashed to the ground and he lost all further interest in the course of instruction.

Regardless of personal perspective on the doctrine of the Trinity we have the obligation to help our congregants understand why this doctrine has remained an important part of our tradition. We get no help from the texts for today, or for that matter from any text in Scriptures. The term Trinity does not occur in the Bible and the traditional formulas say nothing approaching that which the church has attempted to convey with the term Trinity.

I suggest the following approach:

First, share in the sermon that the term Trinity does not occur in Scripture but give credit to the early church thinkers who wished to preserve monotheism in light of potential tri-theism. Pastors need to help parishioners respond to those persons from other faiths who might suggest that in fact we are polytheistic. The sermon for Trinity Sunday must insist that we are monotheistic and that the doctrine of the Trinity was created in order to preserve monotheism. We believe in one true God.

Second, state openly that church thinkers have made several attempts at interpreting the doctrine of the Trinity and that not all efforts have been understandable or convincing. For example the idea that “Father” is God for us, Son is God with us and Holy Spirit is God within us, does not take care of how it is that all three persons are active when God is creating or redeeming. This was eventually declared heretical and condemned. The main defendant of this theory (called modalism) was Sabellius. His ideas were picked up by Schleiermacher in the XIX Century but failed to gain traction.

For my money the oldest “explanation” is quite convincing but unfortunately it is not often used or, because of poor translations, obfuscates rather than clarifies. Tertullian used language that came from the performing arts, not from philosophy. He referred to the mask of the actor prosopon in Greek, as that which God “donned” when acting as Creator, Redeemer or Paraclete. When he was reminded that all the persons needed to be present whenever any of the persons acted he used another Greek term, perichoresis, to indicate that the actors, also danced around and acted in unison. When this was translated to Latin and from Latin to modern languages the confusion was created since prosopon, the actor’s mask was rendered as persona, which also means a more or less self contained being. Perichoresis was rendered by the tortured expression “the interpenetration of the three persons.” One can easily understand why Jung’s father and so many others have just given up on trying to talk intelligently about the Trinity. I have used a pin wheel with three colors to indicate the three different persons and when the wheel turns all the colors blend into one conveying some of what Tertullian meant by perichoresis.

I believe that the most important thing to convey about the idea of the Trinity is that our ancestors in the faith wanted to preserve the fact that God is a community. Three in the community is what the tradition has taught, but there is no reason to limit God’s internal, loving community to “three.” In process thought we believe that beings are also communities. Humans are socially organized communities with a regnant actual occasion. Paul’s reference to the body, even in its rudimentary presentation, suggests that parts of the body are similar to parts of a community.

Leonardo Boff, the Brazilian theologian who wrote Trinity in Society nails it down around love and community. He refers to Augustine’s “solution” to the mystery of the Trinitiy vides Trinitate si vides charitate, you see the Trinity when you act lovingly. The conclusion of his book is worth paraphrasing:

The Trinity in creation seeks to insert creation in the Trinity. The providence of the Father, the liberation of the Son and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit are ordered to the transfiguration of the universe…The universe in the triune God will be the body of the Trinity, showing forth in the limited form of creation, the full possibility of the communion of the divine Three.

This is the festival of the redeemed. It is the celestial dance of the freed, the banquet of sons and daughters in the homeland and household of the Trinity… in trinitized creation, we shall leap and sing, praise and love God and we shall be loved by God… invited to dance and sing, sing and dance, dance and love, forever and ever. (True and full perichoresis!!!)

I Strongly suggest people check earlier postings for Trinity Sunday (found here and here). Also Dr. John B. Cobb has a very good response about the Trinity in Ask Dr. Cobb (found here and here).