Monday, June 5, 2017


Trinity, c.1515 - Lucas Cranach the Elder
Trinity -- Lucas Cranach the Elder (1515)

This Sunday is the only day in the whole Christian Calendar that is dedicated to a theological doctrine rather than a person, event or sacred symbol. Compared to other occasions, the Feast of the Holy Trinity came to be observed rather late in the Church’s history and was not made official until 1334. The intention was to conclude the liturgical commemorations of the life of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit by focusing on the whole nature of God. Trinity was taken up with particular enthusiasm by the church in England, and so came to be specially identified with the Anglican Church that resulted from Henry VIII's break with Rome in the 16th century.

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity  -- that there are Three Persons in One God -- is  central to orthodox Christianity, and figures in confessions of faith both at baptism and confirmation. At the same time, though we are asked to affirm it, the doctrine is immensely difficult – perhaps impossible -- to understand completely. How did Christians end up in the position of having to believe what they can hardly understand?

The answer is this. As early Christians struggled to hold on to the essentials of the Jewish belief in One God and at the same time acknowledge the full significance of Jesus’ Resurrection, and also explain their sense of spiritual empowerment at Pentecost when the Risen Christ was no longer present to them, they effectively stumbled on a formula -- the Father who created them, the Son who redeemed them, and the Spirit who sanctified them must be different 'persons' enjoying a perfect unity one with another. We owe the doctrine's most familiar version – in the form of a blessing – to St Paul, who ends his Epistle for this Sunday with these words  --“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all”. But in invoking this blessing, Paul is simply echoing the “great commission” that Jesus gives his disciples in Matthew’s Gospel – “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.

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