Today is another special day in the church calendar, devoted to the Holy Trinity. We've sung “I bind unto Myself Today” attributed to St Patrick, and all our prayers refer to the triune nature of God also. The readings were, surprisingly, more opaque – I wonder if you thought so, too? Prov 8 is an ancient Hebrew poem that personifies God as Wisdom. Later on, this text, in combination with Greek philosophical ideas, helped shape the conceptualization of God as the Word that was “in the beginning” and yet, “became flesh”. We find this in the opening chapter of John, the book from which we took our gospel reading, and so we notice a hint of the same theology in Jesus’ statement “all that the Father has is mine”. This, by the way, is the only gospel in which we find such explicit statements in Jesus’ conversations. Still, all of these connections mostly refer to the mystery of the Incarnation, don’t they? And the other readings seem to refer to the Holy Spirit, echoing the focus of last week. Where is the Trinity?
Well, there actually are no statements in the Bible that spell out the trinitarian doctrine quite in the same way as our Creed does. We will say it after the homily, as we always do, and today, I invite you to pay special attention to the way it lays out our core beliefs. Now, the creeds are the products of 300+ years of making sense of all the scriptures that do mention God in three distinct ways, yet refer to one being. Sometimes, the three are even mentioned in one sentence: for example, the opening words of our liturgy reiterate St Paul’s blessing on the Corinthians: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all". Note that this doesn’t say that “the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one”. There was, in fact, one such verse in the 16th century English translations (1 John 5:7). But, it snuck in by way of the 3rd edition of the printed Bible, itself based on a 5th century Latin translation. If you turn to 1 John today, likely, you won’t find it, in loyalty to the earliest available manuscripts of that text.
Enough biblical scholarship then – it won’t help us much today; and, I don’t think any of us are prepared to plunge into a full out theological lecture at this moment, either. What are we to do? Look for an image, an analogy? Yes, the triadic understanding of God is a kind of an analogy – but, a very well-developed one that took centuries to refine; a powerful and precious one, to the point that the mere invocation of the Trinity or making the sign of the cross has been and still is considered protective of evil – to St Patrick, a “lorica”, i.e. a breastplate! Any simplifications simply do not give it justice. You might have heard of a few: fountain-river; sun-rays; water in three states; energy, light and heat; sibling-parent-spouse... But, these entities either do not all exist at the same time, or are mere roles or attributes of one thing, rather than fully distinct elements. We just don’t have anything like God in our physical world…or else God wouldn’t be God! There is one metaphor, however, that to me has an advantage over the others – a musical chord, a triad; and I’ll tell you why.
I was reminded of this analogy because of our special music last week. For the first time after the pandemic years, we enjoyed hearing a trio of singers, who also noted how powerful it was for them to sing together with others again. A trio is an example of not only unity in diversity (my Pentecostal message!), but also of diversity in harmony, appropriate to today. For the real reason we love musical harmony is not as simple as enjoying a variety of voices. What’s more important is that a perfect harmony results in something greater than the sum of its parts, by producing over- and under-tones. As such, it has true, generative power that is undiminished by giving; just as the essence of God was undiminished by either the Incarnation (the Spirit descending on Mary), or by the life of the Church (the Spirit descending on the Apostles). Note how the two stories point to the same truths (and so in the image above, is this Mary or Church??) Like the “light of light” of our Creeds refers to the ability of the flame to give birth to more fire without itself becoming diminished, the musical triad emanates more sound than those which make it up - AND, it only does so because the three sounds exist in relationships. In the Holy Trinity, it is only the relationships between the Father, Son, and Spirit that make them distinct. This explains why Karen was so delighted to sing with others: made in the Image of the relational God, we desire relationships, we want to experience love that is not only undiminished, but in fact, infinitely grown by self-giving.
The metaphor isn’t mine; Karen simply reminded me of it at last week’s coffee hour. St Ignatius of Loyola, a 16th century priest and mystic, is said to have had an epiphany that moved him incredibly deeply: "while praying the office of Our Lady on the steps of monastery, his understanding began to be raised up, in that he was seeing the Most Holy Trinity in the form of three musical keys, and this with so many tears and so many sobs that he could not control himself. And… at no point could he restrain his tears until the mealtime, nor after the meal could he stop talking, only about the Most Holy Trinity." (Reminiscences, section 28)
Have you ever been so deeply moved by a “theological concept”? Maybe not. And it wasn't what affected St Ignatius in this example, either. But it is in the lived experiences of such truths for which we vainly try to find terminology and intellectual understanding, that serve as invitations into a relationship with God. These moments of a connection with God, an awareness of the holy presence in special places, or glimpses of God’s love through a kind action; an insight from reading the Bible or hearing someone speak; seeing God’s incarnation in the face of a baby, or the face of Christ in a mirror - this is where the emotional connection between God and us grows. Let us then, like St Ignatius, allow ourselves to shed tears without restraint, if that’s what we feel in such moments; or laugh, or store treasured memories we can share. Let us talk about our epiphanies, like St Ignatius did then and still does through his writings and the Jesuit tradition. Most importantly, let us continue to sing and live in harmony with others, and be generous in love that will never be diminished by giving. Amen.