Thursday, May 15, 2008

Some notes for the First Sunday after Pentecost, commonly called Trinity Sunday (principally for St Matthias')

The Doctrine of the Trinity
Eric Mascall once wrote that the Trinity is not a doctrine, though there is a doctrine of the Trinity. The Trinity is the living God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Now the doctrine about the Trinity is easily stated: we need only quote the Quicunque Vult, commonly called the Athanasian Creed:

And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the
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 is the Holy Ghost. …

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.
So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord.
And yet not three Lords, but one Lord.
For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be both God and Lord,
So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion, to say, There be
three Gods, or three Lords.
The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten.
The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten.
The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.
And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other; none is greater, or less than another;
But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal.
So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.
Easily stated it may be, but a whole life can be spent contemplating what it means. The Trinity is not a doctrine we are called to know about but the living God whom we are invited to know. A Christian is baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity and signed with the sign of the Cross; at the time of death, the Christian is sent from the world in the name of the Holy Trinity (BAS, p. 564). The whole Christian life is marked “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, and our hope is for the fulfilment of that life in eternity.
In many parts of Scripture, as in today’s reading from Genesis, or in the Gospel account of the Baptism of the Lord, we meet a revelation of the Three Persons who are One God working in creation, salvation, renewal and sanctification. The full meaning of this revelation is a mystery that leaves all human wisdom lagging behind. Nonetheless, God gave us our minds and calls us to use them in knowing and loving him. It is irresponsible to avoid thinking about our life and calling. Eric Mascall puts all this in balance. Speaking of the “simple faithful” he suggests that
… through participation in the tradition of Christian life and worship, they have come to experience God as he is. There is a knowledge by ‘connaturality’through faith and love’ which is more intimate than merely conceptual knowledge, and it is vital that intellectuals should remember this. Nevertheless, when intellectual issues are raised they must be faced, and it is disreputable for the intellectual to put on the mask of the charcoal-burner whenever he finds himself in a corner [The Triune God, 1986, p. 26].
(Blaise Pascal referred to simple Christian as the “charcoal-burner”.)

The First Reading, Genesis 1:1-2:4a. Among the myths of the ancient Near East can be found many variations on a common account of the world’s origin. the creation story in Genesis is clearly part of this world agreeing in many details, such as the sequence of events. The places where the Hebrew account differs from others in the tradition tells us how the people of Israel thought of God, and we believe, are points where we especially learn what God wants us to know from these stories. To learn how the Genesis account differs from a Mesopotamian creation story, see the “Clippings” section in the Revised Common Lectionary notes for Trinity Sunday
Why do we read this passage on Trinity Sunday? Quite simply, to keep us from thinking that the Trinity somehow begins in the New Testament. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking of the Persons of the Trinity as a kind of committee or team taking turns in the work of creation, salvation, and sanctification. But this is to think of them as three Gods and not one. Christian theology holds that the Persons work together in all these things. So we see as it were in retrospect in the first three verses of Genesis the three Persons united in the work. This understanding is undergirded by the opening verses of John’s Gospel, which speak of God creating all things through the Word. A further vestige of the Trinity has traditionally been seen in verse 26, the plural “Let us make”. Modern scholars place less emphasis on this, but I agree with Robert Farrar Capon:
In the old days, when theologians were less uptight about their respectability in the eyes of biblical critics, the odd majestic plural of that fateful "Let us make" was always taken as one of the Old Testament evidences for the doctrine of the Trinity. Nowadays you lose your union card if you do things like that, but I still think it's nice. You don't have to be dead earnest about it all and work up a theory that the Jewish writer who put the first chapter of Genesis together was some kind of crypto-Christian, or that the Holy Spirit was deliberately trying to Tell Us Something.
Psalm 8
is a psalm of praise of God as creator and of mankind as the head of creation. Does not seem to contain an obvious trinitarian reference, but retrospectively, we cannot read of “the son of man” without thinking of Christ, or to his being made a little lower than the angels without thinking of the incarnation. .It is for this reason perhaps that the liturgical psalter has retained the translation “son of man” in verse 5, where some contemporary versions opt for “mortals”. As Haslam notes at RCL, this is not just being “politically correct” His note shows that this is not simply a question of inclusive or exclusive language in the modern sense. He writes:
The Hebrew, ben ‘adam, literally son of proto-human, is a Jewish idiom meaning mortal or human being. Some scholars consider Son of Man, as used in the New Testament, to be a Christian technical term. [NOAB] Ben ‘adam can also be translated as “children of earth". Before Eve was created Adam was of no gender; he was simply “earth-creature”, a literal translation; after the rib was removed they became man and woman. So ben ‘adam is more inclusive, referring back to the pre-gendered humanity.
The Epistle, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13.
In this reading we have Paul’s fervent wish for the congregation iin Corinth. He mentions the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, God related to us and for our salvation. The order, “Lord Jesus Christ … God … Holy Spirit,” is significant: the grace of Christ expresses and leads one toward the love of God, and the love of God when actualized through the Spirit, produces communion with God and with one another. Compare to this the trintarian formula in 1 Corinthians 12.4-5: “Spirit … Lord … God.” In calling Jesus “Lord” (Greek, Κύριος) the first Christians, who were Jews, named him as God, for this word was used in translations of the Hebrew Scriptures to render the divine name YHWH (often incorrectly rendered as “Jehovah”). For converts from paganism, the same word was used of their deities.
Although there is no formal doctrinal statement of the Trinity in the New Testament, triadic or trinitarian formulas like the one in today’s epistle reading run through it as a golden thread. Such passages include Rom 5.1-4, 8:9-11, 14-17, 15:16 and 30; 1 Cor 2:6-16, 8:6; 2 Cor 1.21-22; Phil 3:3; Eph 4:5-7; 1 Thess 1:2-7; Titus 3:4-6; Heb 9:14 1 Peter 1.2; 1 John 4:13-14, 5:5-12.

The Holy Gospel.
St Matthew 28:16-20 is the conclusion of the Gospel, narrating Jesus’s final command and promise to his disciples, known as the Great Commission. As Haslam puts it, the Lord Jesus “now sends out his followers to “all nations” (v. 19, not just Israel) to: baptise in the possession and protection (“name”) of the Trinity, and to carry on his teaching ministry. To help in this daunting task, he is, and will be, with them until the Kingdom of God comes fully.” This passage is read today because of the form of the command, to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.

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