Trinity Sunday. fr Timothy Radcliffe teaches us about the overflowing love which is the life of the Holy Trinity.
People sometimes give the impression that Jesus was a holy man of God, but through the centuries the Church imposed on him a strange and alien identity, as a member of the Trinity. What has this got to do with Jesus of Nazareth? But from the very beginning, the earliest disciples had an intuition that in him God was disclosed as somehow Triune. In today’s reading, Jesus commands the disciples to baptise ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. Paul embeds the person of Jesus in the mystery of the Godhead. In John, Thomas confesses that Jesus is ‘My Lord and my God.’ It took centuries for the Church to find the best words, but from the very beginning in Jesus, God is glimpsed as Triune. What does this mean for us?
First, in Christ we discover that God is love. It is not just that God loves, but that God is, at the very core of his being, love. When we love, we share in the very life of God. If God were alone from all eternity, then God could not be love. There would have been no one and nothing to love until Creation. Love would be accidental to God and so God could stop loving as he had once begun. But because our God indeed is love, then we are caught up in this mystery and cry out ‘Abba, Father’.
But wouldn’t it be enough for there to be just two persons of the Godhead? Why three? This is not primarily a mathematical statement, as if we could get to heaven and count the persons of the Trinity. It points towards a love which is utterly mutual but which overflows, as the love of the Father and the Son overflows in the Holy Spirit. When parents have children they too learn that love which overspills beyond the couple. Love becomes Trinitarian as its mutuality is opened towards others. Otherwise our loves might become introverted and narcissistic. So the doctrine of the Trinity is not abstract celestial mathematics. It is the most down to earth practical lesson in the mystery of generous and fruitful love.
But why then do we insist that God is one? Couldn’t we settle for three gods, happily loving each other from all eternity, like an everlasting happy family? What’s wrong with polygamy? It would be easier to grasp! Again, the assertion that God is one is not primarily a mathematical statement. It is not like saying that there just happens to be one God though there might have been two or twenty. It points to the utter unity of God, who gathers us into the concord of his being. God is a love which is completely one.
This is the glorious doctrine of the simplicity of God. G. K. Chesterton wrote that ‘a lady I knew picked up a book of selections from St. Thomas, with a commentary; and began hopefully to read a section with the innocent heading, The Simplicity of God. She then laid the book down with a sigh and said: “Well, if that’s His simplicity, I wonder what His complexity is like.”’
So right from the earliest times, the disciples had a glimpse of the mystery of this Triune love which they encountered in Jesus. This is not the belief in some strange divine threesome on a remote planet. It is the love which transfigures our own loving. All our everyday ordinary loving is marked with this mystery. It is a love which lifts us into equality, as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equal. Its grace frees us from domination and manipulation. It is a fertile love, overflowing beyond itself. It draws us into unity with each other and with God, overthrowing divisions between nations, saints and sinners, the living and the dead. Our love is pregnant with the prayer of Jesus, addressed to his Father and ours, ‘that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one.’ (John 17.22f)
Readings: Deuteronomy 4:32-34,39-40 | Romans 8:14-17 | Matthew 28:16-20