Trinity Sunday (OF)
11 June 2017
First Reading:
Exodus XXXIV. iv-vi, viii-ix.
Second Reading: II. Corinthians XIII. xi-xiii.
Gospel: S. John III. xvi-xviii.
Collect: God our Father, who by sending into the world the Word of truth and the Spirit of Sanctification made known to the human race your wondrous mystery: Grant us, we pray, that in professing the true faith, we may acknowledge the Trinity of eternal glory, and adore your Unity, powerful in majesty. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.  Amen.

The Holy Trinity is here symbolised by an old king enthroned on the sky (God the Father), Jesus Christ crucified (God the Son), and a dove (God the Holy Ghost). This depiction, with the saints and angels worshipping, was painted by Albrecht Dürer in 1511.

TODAY’S glorious feast marks the end of Eastertide and is dedicated to an ineffable mystery: namely, that we worship three divine Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and yet not three gods, but one God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. This is the highest truth in the world, because it existed before the world. We find it difficult to understand not because it is a lie, but because our minds are finite: how could we possibly expect to understand the nature of an infinite God?

Nevertheless, God in his loving-kindness has revealed his very nature to us, and we, like children, must do our best to understand. The Apostles held the Faith simply as Christ and the Holy Ghost had handed it to them, but in time it became necessary to define the matter more clearly. Under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, the great bishops of the first centuries devised certain formulae that encapsulated what they had received from the Apostles. These formulae do not contain God nor do they give us a clear vision of the inner nature of God, but they do preserve us from error, and help us to see God the way the Apostles who received the Faith from his very lips saw him.

I hope that you will therefore permit me to quote at some length from the Quicunque vult, commonly called the Athanasian Creed, which lays out some of these formulae for us, to guide us to the Faith that the Church has held since the beginning.

The Catholick Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;
Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.
For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such the Holy Ghost:
The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, the Holy Ghost uncreate;
The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, the Holy Ghost incomprehensible;
The Father eternal, the Son eternal, the Holy Ghost eternal.
And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal;
As also they are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.
So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty;
And yet there are not three Almighties, but one Almighty.
So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God;
And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.

Here is a great mystery, beyond human reason, but not contrary to it. Nowhere in the mortal world is there anything like it. As the great theologians are quick to tell us, those who invent gods for themselves always fashion them after the natural world or after human society. This is not out of stupidity; they are merely constrained by the limits of the human imagination. The Trinity is, quite simply, not something that mere men could have made up. And despite this fact, it coheres with everything we know about the world. I bears repeating: the doctrine of the Trinity is a sacred mystery, above human reason, but not contrary to it. To use the precise terms, we should say that it is suprarational, but not irrational.

Every Sunday we confess together this same Faith, which God has revealed, throughout the liturgy. I shall draw your attention to two places in particular, which are two of the oldest prayers that we recite. The first is the Gloria, in which we glorify first the “Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father Almighty.” Immediately after, we worship the “Lord, the only-begotten Son [Jesus] Christ [who is] the Lord God, the Lamb of God, the Son of the Father.” And, finally we confess that Christ is not subordinate to the Father, but conclude with these words: “For thou only art holy; thou only art the Lord; thou only, O Jesu Christ, with the Holy Ghost, art most high in the glory of God the Father.” Likewise in the Creed, we first profess belief in God the Father, then in God the Son, and finally in God the Holy Ghost. Other ancient Christian prayers, such as the Te Deum, follow a similar pattern, and dozens of prayers in the Mass are repeated in sets of three to remind us of this mystery that lies at the centre of our Faith.

On this most holy feast-day, therefore, and at certain points throughout the year, I urge you to take up one of the Creeds and to meditate on the nature of our God, who is three Persons and one Godhead. The three Creeds are: the Apostles’ Creed, which we recite at Baptism and in the Holy Rosary; the Nicene Creed, which we recite in the Mass; and the Athanasian Creed, which I quoted to you in part. During the Mass, listen for the prayers and the hymns addressed to each of the Persons of the Trinity. Grow in your love of our great and mysterious God, whose love for the within his Godhead was so great that he created you to share in it, whose love for you was so great that the Person of the Son became a man to die for your salvation, whose love for your body and soul is so great that the Person of the Holy Ghost has made it his dwelling and temple. Thanks be to God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.