Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Trinity

It is only fitting that the Gospel for Trinity Sunday is the third chapter of Saint John, in which our Lord speaks of our need to be baptized, calling it to be born again, and to born of water and of the Spirit. Later, after His resurrection, the Gospel of Matthew tells us that He commanded His Apostles to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” For the first time ever, the complete Name of God was spoken, and heard by human ears. The Name, singular: Saint Basil the Great makes a point of emphasizing this. Not three names, but one Name of three Persons.

In Jewish history, by the time that Christ was born the Name of God had not been spoken for about five hundred years; I mean that mysterious Name of which we have only four consonants that correspond to our Latin alphabet, in English rules of pronunciation, to the letters YHVH. Attempts to reconstruct a proper pronunciation are a waste of time. In fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah, after the return from Babylon, no man of Judah ever spoke this Name again. Rather than risk a mispronunciation of the Name, the word Adonai, which means Lord, would be spoken by a Jewish reader when reading the Hebrew Scriptures (and in rare cases, H’ Shem, which means the Name. But Adonai is by far the older and more commonly accepted substitute for the mysterious, ineffable Name). This is why your Bible has, as its English translation of the mysterious Name, the word “LORD” in all capitals. Whenever this, the most revered Name of God, was written by a Jewish scribe, he would destroy the pen and never use it again. This Jewish reverence for the Holy Name was part of the first generation of Christian Tradition; and I really question the wisdom of trying to pronounce the Name at all.

Furthermore, the pronunciation of the ineffable Name may be lost due to Providence. When Christ came into the world He began early on to reveal the Name of God as that Name is given for our salvation. When but twelve years of age He said, “did you not know that I would be in My Father’s house?” Only once does the scripture record Him using the phrase “our Father.” This is when He tells us how we ought to pray. For Christians God is our Father. But, Christ never says “our Father” in such a way as to imply equality between Him and us. He draws a dividing line, speaking either of “My Father” as the only begotten Son, or speaking of “your Father” to us as those who are adopted through Him, born again of water and the Spirit. Never, does He say “thy Father” to any individual. For we are only able to speak of our Father, as the community of those adopted in Christ. To us God is our Father, for even if we are praying alone, we cannot be, and so are not, God’s children apart from the only begotten Son.

In all of this, however, keeping to the subject of God’s Name, Jesus Christ has revealed the Name of God. In the words He spoke to the apostle’s on the night in which He was betrayed, He spoke of the coming of the other Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit, as He would come upon them later on Pentecost, sent from the Father by the Son. Then in His high priestly prayer- the 17th chapter of John, the Lord Jesus addresses His Father, and says, “I have revealed to them thy Name.” The revealed name was Father, a name that tells of the simple fact that “God is love.” After he died for our sins and rose again, He went on to reveal to us the full Name of God, as we have been reminded already concerning the command to baptize. That Name is the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. We do not need to labor long and hard at trying to pronounce the Tetragrammaton, that is the ineffable Name. We speak instead of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.

So, it is fitting that we read from the third chapter of John on Trinity Sunday, because of the way in which the Trinity has been revealed. It has been revealed in the process by which God has done those most direct and significant acts in the history of salvation, when “the fullness of time had come” and God sent forth His only Son born of a virgin. The Son did always the will of the Father, right up to and including the offering of His life on the cross. By the Father’s will he rose again. In every way He directly identified Himself on the most intimate terms with God, including words that provoked the most severe hostility from men: “I and my Father are One.” He spoke of the other Comforter whom He would send from the Father. He revealed the Name of God first as Father, and then more completely as the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. And, none of this revelation was given in abstract terms as mere theory; he did not reveal the Trinitarian Name in a classroom, or by writing a paper.

The doctrine of the Trinity was revealed by Jesus Christ in those self-giving acts by which we are saved. Our hope of eternal life, that begins in the waters of Baptism, is tied to the revelation of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. The Trinity was revealed by the work of God in giving Himself to save us from sin and death. The coming of the Son, His sacrifice, and His resurrection; the coming of the Holy Ghost on Pentecost so that the Church would be endued with every means of grace, all give to us a practical and real knowledge of God as the three Persons. In saving us he made His Himself known, and His One Name is the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.

It never has been a problem of arithmetic. The doctrine of the Trinity speaks of Trinity in Unity, three Persons in One God. Everyone who knows that the word “unity” is a form of the word “unit,” which comes from uno (which means one) knows that many parts can make up a unit. We know about the use of the shamrock by Saint Patrick, that it is three leaves in one. Many things throughout the created world show how simple a fact it is that any number of parts can equal one. So, to pretend that it is difficult to believe that three Persons are One God is a rather shallow excuse for incredulity about this doctrine. The real problem is that of understanding God. We cannot put God under a microscope, and describe parts or define ingredients. We cannot imprison His Fullness in the human mind, as if we could play chess with Him and hope to win. We will never understand God: But in Christ, by the Holy Spirit, we can know God. And, because He is infinite, eternal life is to know God and Jesus Christ Whom He has sent; a journey of knowledge of the Infinite that will not be exhausted unto ages of ages, or world without end. Olam, v’olam- forever and ever, our glorious hope is to know God more and more.

We know that God is love because we know the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. And, due to the greatest acts of salvation history, we love Him because he first loved us.

No comments: