Trinity: Part 1

May 6th, 2019 by Dave Leave a reply »

Trinity: MIA
Sunday, May 5, 2019

Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner (1904–1984) suggested that “Christians are, in their practical life, almost mere ‘monotheists.’ We must be willing to admit that, should the doctrine of the Trinity have to be dropped as false, the major part of religious literature could well remain virtually unchanged.” [1] 

Until quite recently, I would admit Rahner was largely correct. Now science affirms the Trinitarian intuition that the foundational nature of reality is relational; everything is in relationship with everything! Interest and appreciation for the Trinity are growing. [2] For the first time since fourth-century Cappadocia, the Trinity has actually become a topic of conversation for lay people, not only theologians. I am so glad, as the Trinity has the potential to change our relationships, our culture, and our politics for the better!

The mystery of Trinity is embedded as the code in everything that exists. If there is only one God and if there is one pattern to this God, then we can expect to find this same pattern everywhere else. Why was Trinity missing in action for so many centuries? Could this absence help us understand how we might still be in the infancy stage of Christianity? Could it help explain the ineffectiveness and lack of transformation we witness in so much of Christendom?

The “Blessed Trinity” is supposed to be the central Christian doctrine. And yet many of us were told—as I was as a young boy in Kansas—that we shouldn’t try to understand it because it’s a “mystery.”

I see mystery not as something you cannot understand; rather, it is something that you can endlessly understand! There is no point at which you can say, “I’ve got it.” Always and forever, mystery gets you! In the same way, you don’t hold God in your pocket; rather, God holds you and knows your deepest identity.

When we describe God, we can only use similes, analogies, and metaphors. All theological language is an approximation, offered tentatively in holy awe. We can say, “It’s like . . .” or “It’s similar to . . .”; but we can never say with absolute certainty, “It is . . .” because we are in the realm of beyond, of transcendence, of mystery. We absolutely must maintain humility before the Great Mystery; otherwise, religion worships itself and its formulations instead of God.

The very mystical Cappadocian Fathers (Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzen, and Basil of Caesarea) of fourth-century eastern Turkey eventually developed some highly sophisticated thinking on what the Christian church soon called the Trinity. It took three centuries of reflection on the Gospels to have the courage to say it and offer the best metaphor they could find. The Greek word they daringly used was perichoresis or circle dance.

Whatever is going on in God is a flow, a radical relatedness, a perfect communion between Three—a circle dance of love. God is Absolute Friendship. God is not just a dancer; God is the dance itself. This pattern mirrors the perpetual orbit of electron, proton, and neutron that creates every atom, which is the substratum of the entire physical universe. Everything is indeed like “the image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:26-27).

Take Your Place at the Table
Monday, May 6, 2019

In Genesis, we see the divine dance in an early enigmatic story (18:1-8). “The Lord” appears to Abraham as “three men” or “three angels,” and Abraham and Sarah seem to see the Holy One in the presence of these three; they bow before them and call them “lord” (18:2-3, Jerusalem Bible). Abraham and Sarah’s first instinct is one of invitation and hospitality—to create a space of food and drink for the guests. Here we have humanity feeding God; it will take a long time to turn that around in the human imagination, to believe that we, too, could be invited to the divine table.

This story inspired a piece of devotional religious art by iconographer Andrei Rublev (c. 1360–c. 1430): The Hospitality of Abraham, or simply The Trinity.As icons do, this painting attempts to point beyond itself, inviting a sense of both the beyond and the communion that exists in our midst.

There are three significant colors in Rublev’s icon, each illustrating a facet of the Holy One:

Gold: “the Father”—perfection, fullness, wholeness, the ultimate Source

Blue: “the Incarnate Christ”—both sea and sky mirroring one another (In the icon, Christ wears blue and holds up two fingers, telling us he has put spirit and matter, divinity and humanity, together within himself. The blue of creation is undergirded with the red of suffering.)

Green: “the Spirit”—the divine photosynthesis that grows everything from within by transforming light into itself (Hildegard of Bingen [1098–1179] called this viriditas, or the greening of all things.)

The icon shows the Holy One in the form of Three, eating and drinking, in infinite hospitality and utter enjoyment between themselves. If we take the depiction of God in The Trinity seriously, we have to say, “In the beginning was the Relationship.” The gaze between the Three shows the deep respect between them as they all share from a common bowl. Notice the Spirit’s hand points toward the open and fourth place at the table! Is the Holy Spirit inviting, offering, and clearing space? I think so! And if so, for what, and for whom?

At the front of the table there appears to be a little rectangular hole. Most people just pass right over it, but some art historians believe the residue of possible glue on the original icon indicates that there was perhaps once a mirror glued to the front of the table. It’s stunning when you think about it: There was room at this table for a fourth—the one in the mirror.

The observer.


Yes, you—and all of creation—are invited to sit at the divine table, to participate in the divine dance of mutual friendship and love.

The mirror seems to have been lost over the centuries, both in the icon and in our on-the-ground understanding of who God is—and therefore who we are, too!


Comments are closed.