Welcome to the Sunday when our people probably hear the most heresy all year long! The mystery of the Holy Trinity has wrapped our brains in knots for centuries, and preachers often fall into one heresy or another. I’d like to continue that long tradition, since it is my duty to preach anyway! So, let’s have a little theology and then apply it to ourselves, okay?
When speaking of the Holy Trinity, theologians have recognized two different ways of recognizing God-in-three, three-in-One. The first is God as God exists in and of Himself. This is God as God – unknowable, all-surpassing. This God is referred to as the “immanent Trinity.” As God has existed and acted throughout the entire history of creation – even before and after it – God is One and mysterious to us. In a sense, this is like Austin, in and of myself. Only I can know me fully and perfectly (in fact, I can’t even know that, but God does).
The second way we can speak of the Trinity is based on how God has revealed Himself to us. We know God as a unity of three divine Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Scripture and Tradition attest to this revelation, and we call this sense of God the “economic Trinity” – that is, God as we can know Him. This is similar to people knowing me in different ways based on how they encounter me.
Both of these – immanent and economic – are ways of talking about the same God. But the only way that we can really have any grasp of God’s nature is through the economic – as God is revealed as Father, Son, and Spirit. All are equally God; all are just as divine; one is not “lesser” than the others. However, as “Persons,” they each have their defining qualities that we can identify.
The definitive quality of the Father is creation and providing. The Father is seen as the Source of all, as a Father in a family, who begins a family and provides for them (this is archaic now, but traditionally). The Father is the Beginner – the One who creates.
The Son’s definitive quality is that of obedience. Looking to the Father, the Son wishes to please Him in all things by accomplishing His will, as a good son seeks to obey and please his parents.
The Spirit’s proper characteristic is to proceed – or to go forth or out. This is why the Spirit is often associated with wind, fire, or some active motion. We saw this last weekend with the rushing wind of Pentecost and the tongues of fire that descended on the disciples.
Now, you can say, “Father? So what?” Go ahead; say it!
This is all well and good (and relatively savvy theology, I must say!), but what does this mean for you and me? Is this just “how-many-angels-balance-on-the-head-of-a-pin” discussion, or does the doctrine of the Holy Trinity mean something more for us?
Short answer: it does! After all, you and I are created in the image and likeness of God – Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Therefore, those things that are characteristic of God as a Trinity of Persons should have something to do with us.
We are Father-like, when we share in the profound act of creating – both through the beautiful gift of married love and through the practice of creative arts. We have a duty to be faithful stewards, guardians of creation and of one another; nurturing each other as a loving Parent. In fact, there is a Maternal aspect to the Father as well!
We reflect the Son because we have been incorporated into Christ by our Baptism. We are “alii Christi” – “other Christs” – who are called to radical dependence upon and obedience to the will of God the Father. Jesus is our model for precisely this purpose: showing us the way to the Father and being that Way Himself.
Finally, we share in the image of the Spirit by our own being sent. Remember the Great Commission; it begins with the word “Go.” The duty of the Church and therefore each Christian is to be sent – to go out – to go forth – to share in the Spirit’s procession – so that the world can come to know God at an even deeper level.
Imagine if we all saw ourselves as reflections of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Imagine a world where communion was the basis of our existence; where profound charity and self-gift were the guiding principles; and where a loving concern for the life of everyone bound us together. We’d be a true family; we’d truly show forth the image of God!