Trinity Sunday. Fr Leon Pereira reminds us that God is not a monolith.
In many of the Judaisms (yes, plural) of Christ’s time, the idea of two Thrones or two Powers in heaven was not an outlandish one: an exalted human appearing beside God, to whom divinity is also attributed (see Daniel and Ezekiel). A certain binitarianism is not alien even within modern Judaism or Islam, with their concepts of the uncreated Torah or Koran respectively, co-eternally existing alongside God.
With this in mind, it is a crying shame when Christians drop all references to the Trinity at inter-religious events, for fear of offending monolithic monotheists such as Jews and Muslims. When Christians do that, they treat the Trinity as an “add-on” to our beliefs, which can just as readily be dropped.
Christians did not invent the Trinity to accommodate a later divinisation of Jesus. Rather, the earliest Christians writings (Paul’s earliest letters, Mark) depict Christ as God, but in a Jewish idiom: as Lord, Son of Man, the cornerstone, Shepherd of Israel, the new Moses, etc. The homilies in Acts show the earliest disciples’ understanding that within the Scriptures God speaks to God, person to person, Father to Son. The change for them was Jesus’s Resurrection. Jesus rose from the dead, and his disciples understood he is Lord and God, and Christ. Paul thus affirms that in Christ ‘the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily’ (Col 2:9).
The disciples did not claim that ‘the Word became a book and we have leafed through its pages’ but ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14), and ‘That which was from the beginning… which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ’ (1 John 1:1-3).
The Trinity is how God truly is; not an “add-on” belief, but the essential truth of that love and being which is God. Some well-meaning preachers refer to God as ‘she’. Whatever we might say about God as feminine, calling God ‘she’ is a fall into idolatry, making the mistake of attributing a sex to God. Frankly God is so unlike us that it is not even clear if we should use the singular or plural on God – and this is so not even because God is Trinity!
God’s pronouns are: he, his. This is how he has chosen to self-identify. This is how he reveals himself to us. He does not relate to us as a monolithic deity, but as a tri-personal relationship, because that is what the One God is. The transcendent God makes himself immanent to us, intimate with us.
Would-be anarchists desire to ‘smash the patriarchy’, yet God the Father is a good father, a true father, from whom every fatherhood takes its name. Modern spiritualities emasculate or dehumanise Christ, preferring a pre-incarnate Sophia, divine wisdom. But Jesus had his gender-reveal celebration at the Annunciation, with the news declared by an archangel to his Mother. The Word became flesh, the Word became a baby boy, a real man, fully divine. Spirit, we are told, is a feminine term in Greek and Hebrew, but this is confusing grammar with sex. Scripture instead says ‘the Lord is the Spirit’ (2 Cor 3:17), the advocate who bears witness that we are children of God, who cries out for us and within us to the Father.
To our temptation to re-make God in our image, the Trinity reveals the truth about God and ourselves. He chooses his pronouns, he reveals the nature of love. To the reduction of humans to their desires, subjective choices, or inclinations, the Trinity reminds us that we are persons, created in the image of the tri-personal Creator. We are made for divine intimacy and friendship, and called by grace to eternal glory. We are persons for the tri-personal God.