Solemnity of the Holy Trinity 2014

When our community was placed under the protection of the Most Holy Trinity — we are under the patronage of the Trinity — we were doing something more than simply ‘going to the top’. We were, rather breathtakingly, making a twofold commitment: to the quest for theological understanding that is part and parcel of the Christian life, and to living the communion of love that is found first and foremost in the inner dynamic of the Trinity.

Some people shy away from theology as though it were an optional extra. It is nothing of the kind. To ‘study God’, to want to understand better the nature of God and the relationship between God and ourselves in all its various manifestations is a necessary part of being Christian. This morning at Vigils we sang through the Athanasian Creed, and as we did so, I could not help reflecting that the anathemas which attract so much attention are much less important than the truth about God Athanasius was trying to convey. The hypostatic union does matter. That Jesus was and is both God and man has profound implications for us who follow him. That God is three Persons in one Unity also matters. But an intellectual understanding is not enough. We must go further, and be drawn into the very life of the Trinity through prayer and the sacraments.

It is when we try to turn our theology into prayer that I think we see the connection most clearly. Indeed, I tend to think of monastic life as doing theology on our knees. The precise formulations of faith lead us into the prayer of love and union. They are not a barrier; and if ever they become so, something is wrong. Last week, I was much struck by a comment on Twitter to the effect that one cannot love the liturgy, the worship of God, if one doesn’t also love the people of God, his children. In the love that binds together in unity the three Persons of the Trinity, we find the origin of our own capacity to love.

This feast of the Holy Trinity is one that stretches mind and heart, but in a good way, for it stretches them as Jesus once stretched his arms on the Cross: upwards to the Father in loving surrender, outwards to the world in loving embrace, with the Holy Spirit the love that held them there.

Note: I have tried to express some complicated thoughts briefly and simply. If I have failed to be orthodox at any point, it is an unintended consequence of my efforts.

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Solemnity of the Holy Trinity 2011

The Holy Trinity from Yates Thompson 13, a Book of Hours from the second quarter of the 14th century
The Holy Trinity: illustration from a Sarum Book of Hours, second quarter of the fourteenth century, now in the British Library.

It would be presumptuous to try to add anything new to the thousands of words, good and bad, written about the Most Holy Trinity. For me, Augustine’s De Trinitate is one of the most satisfying treatments of a profoundly difficult subject, but that is a conclusion I came to only after a nodding acquaintance with modern physics made sense of some of his more mystifying passages.

For some, it is more important that today is Father’s Day. Somehow the two celebrations come together; and if I cannot speak about the Trinity, perhaps I may say something about human beings.

If you think about it, the primary relationship of all of us is that of child — son or daughter, as the case may be. We may not have siblings, we may never be parents ourselves, but we are all the child of someone, or rather, of two persons. The human family reflects the divine, being at least a trinity of persons; but there the analogy ends, for in relation to God, we are, all of us, eternally filial. If we have had inadequate or bad parents or have never known our own parents, this filial relationship with God does not usually come easily. We have to learn an unfamiliar language and it can be painful.

Father’s Day may be another example of soulless commercialisation, but make the connection with today’s feast, and it becomes more than a sentimental commemoration of dear old Dad: it is a reminder of the importance of fatherhood, both human and divine.

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