7 June AD 2009
Here I am again, dear Readers, and I am sorry that it has become somewhat difficult to keep these notes up. It is unfortunate that the reason I have had time to sit down to the task is that I am a little under the weather and have to stay home!Lec
First Reading: Isaiah 6.1-8
The call of Isaiah. In 742 BC. Assyria was expanding its borders and threatening the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The northern kingdom, Israel, is trying to coerce Judah into a military alliance to face the threat. At this time King Uzziah, who had reigned for forty years and led the country to greater security and prosperoity, was sick and nearing death. [On King Uzziah, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uzziah_of_Judah, and http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11379a.htm.]
In the Temple, as it appears, Isaiah has a vision of God on a lofty throne, with seraphim in attendance hovering above him. These creatures (the name means “fiery” are only once mentioned in the Scriptures of the Old Testament although they are known in art from the ancient Near East. See , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seraphim for a quick introduction to the Seraphim. Since the text makes it absolutely clear that ‘Seraphim’ is a plural form there is no need to resport to using ‘seraphs’. The three pairs of wings appear to be symbolic, and it appears the ‘feet’ is a euphemism for the private parts.
The Seraphim cry to one another ‘holy is the Lord God of hosts’. [For Monteverdi’s settting from the 1610 Vespers, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxWilsd0heM.] The triple repetition of ‘holy’ identifies God as all-holy, sinless, apart from earthly things. Today, we cannot avoid hearing in it a foreshadowing of the revelation of God as Trinity.
We know God as Trinity because of the divine mission, the sending of the Son and the Spirit into the world, a mission into which we are called. So it is fitting that this reading from the prophet Isaiah is concerned with mission: ‘Whom shall I send?”
The Psalm sees the glory of the Lord in a great storm (one is reminded of Horace Odes, III.5, Caelo tonantem credidimus Iovem regnare). While there does nto seem to be an obvious trinitarian connection iin this psalm, there is a resonance of verse 3, ‘the voice of the Lord is over the waters,’ with the moment when Jesus, coming up from the waters of baptism hears the voice of the Father from heeaven and the Spirit descends on him, a moment which some threologians consider the primary revelation of the Trinity in the Gospels.
The Epistle: Romans 8.12-17
While the doctrine of the Trinity is not explicitly stated in the New Testament, a three-fold understanding of God’s life and action runs through its pages, and it was in trying to hold onto all these facts that the doctrine came to be expressed. Useful for reading on this point are G. L. Prestige’s Fathers and Heretics and the first part of Eric Mascall’s Via Media. This passage from Romans is one of those in which the Fatherly, the Filial, and the Spiritual are seen in the Divine action. More importantly, by speaking of our adoption as heirs, it points the way to understanding why the doctrine of the Trinity was revealed to us: for unless there is relationship within God’s life, there is no way in which we can share that life.
It should be noted that in verse 14 ‘children’ translates the Greek huioi, ‘sons’, while in verse 17 it translates tekna, ‘children’. In neither case should we be thinking of little children; the idea is of the ‘heir’, as is made clear in verse 17.
The word ‘spirit’ varies much in meaning in this passage. In ‘spirit of servitude’ (verse 15) it means ‘the dominant habit or frame of mind’, while in the next verse it refers to both the Spirit of God and the spirit of human beings.
The Holy Gospel. John 3.1-17.
The visit of Nicodemus to Jesus by night is well known and has so often been commented on, that there are only a few points that need to be made$ just now.
One point that bears repeating, even though it has often been noted concerns the idea of being “born again”. In the NRSV vs 3 is given as “"Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” The word rendered by “from above” is ἄνωθεν, which may also mean “anew” as the NRSV notes. It is impossible to convey both meanings in one English word. However, as Nicodemus’ misunderstanding shows, both meanings must be kept in mind throughout the passage. Temple notes: “The Greek words carry both meanings, and it is not necessary to choose. The element ‘again’ is here primary; but that new borth has only one source. A man cannot accomplish it for himself—as Nicodemus knows and is quick to point out.”
Likewise, in verse 8 we need to remember that “wind” and “spirit” are the same word in the original (πνεῦμα), a word which also means breath.
Some reputable mss add the words “who is in heaven” after “the Son of Man” at the end of verse 13. Temple notes:
Some ancient student has added here the words which is in heaven. Whatever their origin, they represent a most important truth. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity was no less in heaven during the period of the earthly ministry than either before or after it. What we see as we eatch the
life of Jesus is the very life of heaven—indeed of God—in human expression.
It is unclear when the quotation of Jesus’ words ends and the narrator’s voice resumes: some, such as Temple, hold that the whole of vv 10-17 are meant to be read as Jesus’s words, while other commentators would end the quotation at v. 15.