The Mystery of God as Trinity
Dr Anne Hunt OAM is a laywoman and a theologian, with a particular interest in the mystery of the Trinity, how we understand it, including insights from the mystics, how it is depicted in art, and how it affects our lives. She is Emeritus Professor of the Faculty of Theology and Philosophy of Australian Catholic University.
She preached this homily in Saint Mark’s Church on the Feast of the Holy Trinity, 22 May 2016.
Trinity Sunday is a particularly important and precious Sunday in the liturgical year. On most Sundays we celebrate some aspect of what God has done for us, but on Trinity Sunday our celebration is focussed on the sheer wonder of who God is, as distinct from what God has done.
It is no accident that we celebrate Trinity Sunday at this particular point in the liturgical year – after the Easter events of his death, descent into hell and his resurrection, and then Ascension and Pentecost – because it was through those very events that the disciples came to the amazing realisation that God is a Trinity of three divine persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three distinct persons while yet one and only one God. Remember, his disciples were faithful Jews; they believed that the Lord our God is one. It was no small thing to come to the realisation that, within that oneness, God is distinctly three.
That God exists in three persons within that oneness is a conviction that has confounded Christians ever since – how to express this, how to make sense of it, how to think about it, and how to speak of it with at least a modicum of sense and coherence. Even the great St Augustine in the 4th century and St Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century wrestled with how to understand it and make some sense of it.
Artists and icon writers have depicted the Three in various ways over the centuries. Andrei Rublev’s icon, displayed here on the altar today, is one of the most beautiful images, with the three divine persons depicted as three angelic figures. But, just as no words can adequately express this ineffable mystery of three distinct persons in one being, neither can any visual image, not even Rublev’s exquisite and richly symbolic icon.
What is reassuring and invigorating for our faith today is that our foremothers and forefathers among the early Christians, as well as many saints and mystics throughout the ages, have been unfailing in their faith in this great mystery that lies at the very core of our faith as Christians. Indeed, some saints have had remarkable mystical experiences of the Trinitarian mystery (e.g. Sts Bonaventure, St Hildegard, Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross). They give further testimony that this is the mystery of three-personned love in which we – and indeed all creation - live and move and have our being.
Like the early disciples and the saints and mystics, we too, each and every one of us, are invited into relationship with these Three. The feast of Trinity Sunday urges us – individually and together – to enter ever more deeply into this mystery of God’s love, and allow it to enter into us, and to work in us. This indeed is grace: it is God, the Trinity of three persons, abiding in us and transforming us ever more closely into God’s image. In this way, little by little, we come to see, if but dimly, and to understand and love the world and all the people and situations in it as God sees, understands and loves it. That is in fact what we glimpse in the lives of holy people, and that is what is promised to each one of us.
Through grace, we are able to take up the challenge to which the mystery of the Trinity urges us in very practical ways in our daily lives. This mystery challenges us firstly to treasure diversity in our community, not just to tolerate it, not even just to value it, but to embrace it and treasure it. The mystery of God as Trinity, of three distinct persons in the one God, is not a mystery of uniformity but of unity in diversity.
Unity in diversity finds concrete expression in the virtue of hospitality. We see hospitality in its perfection in the Trinity - the hospitality of each of the three divine person to each other, and the hospitality of God who is Trinity towards us, inviting us to share in their life and love. Notice how Rublev’s icon of the Trinity captures a sense of the hospitality of God, welcoming you to the table and inviting you commune with the three divine persons.
The mystery of the Trinity surely calls us to extend a hand of welcome and hospitality, a hand that is just and humane, compassionate and loving, that is truly Christian, to each and every one – but especially to the outcast, the disenfranchised, the outsiders, the lost, the forsaken, and the asylum seeker. It urges us to be whole-hearted and magnanimous in our dealings with others, especially those on the margins, and to respond generously and compassionately to their needs. It is in those really concrete ways that we live true to our faith in God who is Trinity.
The mystery of God as Trinity has meaning and relevance not just for how we deal with others, but no less importantly to how we relate to God. Today we celebrate that God comes to us, communicates with us, and relates to us in three distinct ways as three distinct persons. We are called to respond in kind. God is not an amorphous blob but these three persons who relate to us personally. So, in your praying, hone your attention and address them personally, speaking and listening to each one. Come and sit at the table in Rublev’s icon!
Perhaps most importantly of all today, we are reminded that the Trinity of the Father Son and Holy Spirit is always there, waiting for us, welcoming us, caring for us, carrying us when we need to be carried, loving us more than we dare to dream of, and calling us and inviting us to enter into and share ever more fully in their life, love and hospitality.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, Amen.