The visiting priest said he accepted the invitation to give the homily weeks in advance, without realizing it would be Trinity Sunday. “Tradition among clergy is that on Trinity Sunday,” he told us, “you ask either the youngest or the most gullible priest to give the homily.” Nevertheless, he did a decent job in his remarks. He emphasized that the early Christians were finding that the old language was not sufficient to describe their new experience; hence they eventually came up with the concept of trinity to describe one God whom they had experienced in three personas of Father God, Jesus their Lord, and the Holy Spirit whom they encountered on Pentecost and also in daily life on earth since that time. He also made a point that attempts to explain the Trinity have never really been intellectually clear of particularly satisfying – leaving us to live with the mystery.
I have heard other theologians explain that the primary need for a doctrine of the Trinity is the belief in the divinity of Christ. If Jesus was the divine Son of God, and if there is one God, then we are led to the need for Trinity. I have an idea about why Christian culture has latched onto the concept of Trinity. The key affirmation in declaring that Jesus the human was also divine lies at the heart of the idea that should be truly good news. The good news that came into consciousness is that humanity shares in the very nature of God. The good news is not just that “God became man (human).” The flip side is that in the person of Jesus we were able to realize that there is something divine about humanity.
I realize that these are heretical-sounding words. Meister Eckhart was declared a heretic because of his views on the union of humanity with the godhead. Church authority relied very much on the sin of human nature creating a chasm between us and God, allowing for adequate political control over the masses. Eckhart, however, saw that the good news of Christ really was good news, not condemnation.
So even though we as a people have never been able to say it out loud, when the Church created the doctrine of the Trinity, the people were acknowledging on some level that there is something truly divine about being human. We could say it about one human, Jesus, but we have some trepidation about saying that the very being of God lies within us as well. This is in spite of the fact that Jesus himself pointed to that reality of God-within-us. George Fox spoke of the light within – that spark of God that exists in everyone. Some radicals followed his lead in the Quaker movement but most saw that concept as too much beyond the pale of orthodoxy.
I would suggest that today, just as some 2000 years ago, we are finding that the old language is no longer adequate to describe our experience of life, or our encounter with the divine. I believe we can take that light that dwells within and find new ways to express the wonder that we see. It would be foolish to think that even a new language could do that experience justice, just as “Trinity” never quite described what people of faith have actually encountered. But that is why, as I have stated before, I prefer the wet fertility of poetry over the dry futility of doctrine.
By Charles Kinnaird
Being half man and half god
You showed us something about ourselves.
The earthy and the divine in us
So mix and dance within
That we can see the joys of our mundane community,
The terror of madness,
And on occasion we can know
That we are able to fulfill impossible labors.
Being very god
And very man
You once (if only briefly)
Held the world on your shoulders.
Haven't we all?