The Holy and Triune God. What is specific to Christian belief is the person of Jesus and the event of his life, death and resurrection. In this particularity is rooted faith in the one and triune God, the feast we celebrate today.
Christian faith first came to deal with the triadic understanding of God in the history of salvation as a matter of sheer fact. This doctrine did not arise out of idle speculation about the Supreme Being, nor out of an attempt by logical thinking to explain to itself what the fountain of all being was like.
Since the time the Risen Christ commissioned his followers to go to the ends of the earth, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, believers have tried to make sense out of this article of faith – that the Christian name for God is “Father, Son and Spirit.”
The doctrine of the Trinity developed out of the effort to digest what was experienced in the history of Jesus. The death and resurrection of Jesus revealed to us the essential character of the divine life of the holy and triune God.
This revelation claims that the Christian religious experience could not be anything less than union with the Trinity. Salvation is entrance into trinitarian communion – the Father saves us in Jesus through the Spirit.
In the carpenter from Galilee, one meets a human being who at the same time knew and professed himself to be Son of God. On the one hand, Jesus called God Abba (Father) with others – he was someone different from this Father to whom he spoke and to whom we also speak. On the other hand, he was himself the divine Word coming to dwell among us, the Emmanuel (God-with-us), one in being with the Father.
Jesus himself is the coming of the Kingdom of God, something that could not be if he were not divine but merely human or just some intermediary being.
We therefore see in Christ a certain duality in the deity: God as “I” and “You” in one person. This experience of God is followed by another, the experience of the Spirit at Pentecost as the “We,” the presence of the triune God in our innermost being.
And so, Christians believe in a self-giving God whom love has driven to become a human being and who loves human beings irrevocably, precisely because this God is one and triune.
The roots of the mystery
This self-emptying of a God vulnerable to human pain is possible only because the Abba (Father) is truly beginning and end for us. This is possible only because there is a Divine Word who has entered history for our sake. This is possible only because there is the Spirit of love poured out among us.
All this is possible only because there is a God who is triune, in whom to be, to know and to love coincide infinitely.
John declared that Jesus is identical to the eternal Logos who created the world, who is with God and is God (Jn. 1:1-18). Christ is the love of God. He is the fullness of life, and so he is at the very center and core and what our destiny will be, in terms of being a part of God’s ongoing plan for the convergent universe.
The New Testament proclaims the coming of the Son to inaugurate the Kingdom of the Father through the power of the Spirit. The Trinity is the center of the entire theological edifice. It is the Christian way of speaking about human relatedness to divine reality and the fundamental interrelatedness of everything that is.
The religious experience of the Trinity should be accompanied by an earth-centered spirituality because the idea of God as community provides the foundation for seeing ourselves as fully embedded in the fabric of nature, for seeing our connection to the other species and to the ecosystem.
The Father through the Risen Christ and the grace of the Spirit continues to make this relationship present in human and cosmic history. In John, the coming of the Spirit is the same as the Father and the Son coming to us (Jn. 14:21-23).
Paul refers to the Spirit in the same breath as the Father and the Son (Rom. 8:9-11; 1 Cor. 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 13:13; Eph. 4:4-6). He mentions the Spirit in triadic statements linking him to the Father and the Son (Rom. 15:30; 1 Cor. 12:4-6; 2 Cor. 13:14).
The God who saves us from alienation and draws us into communion in grace is one and triune. Jesus related to the God he called Father with great intimacy. He allowed his whole life to be shaped by this intimate relationship by the Spirit of God.
And because Jesus is the incarnate Second Person of the Trinity through the power of the Spirit, every human being shares the divine nature.
The same power that brought the world into being and raised Jesus from the dead will make becoming end in being and not in nothingness.
God is a Community
St. Athanasius said that God became a human being so that every human being may become God. Divine revelation is the historical manifestation of the Trinity as the Godhead impinges upon our lives in nature and in history. Salvation is ultimately personal union with the one and triune God.
The Trinity is the Mystery that grounds the fact that there is a universe at all, a universe where life can arise. The triune God is a community of loving relationships that created the universe out of the overflow of love.
The Death and Resurrection of Jesus as a revelation of the one and triune God is a symbol of how new life, new opportunities and new possibilities came out of chaos and destruction in the history of the cosmos.
In the history of the universe, giant stars explode and give birth to other stars and planets over and over again. Every atom in our bodies was forged in the inner core of stars that exploded billions of years ago.
Without the dying of stars and galaxies, there would be no planets and no life. Thus, pain, suffering disillusionment and even death are not the end of the story. Trinitarian faith grounds the hope that compassion will finally triumph over cruelty because this evolving universe turns chaos and catastrophes into new opportunities.
We who believe have to render intelligible the deeper meaning of our lives in the light of this revelation of God as a community of persons, a revelation which redefines who and what we are, makes us transcend self-interest towards sacrifice, expands our moral concerns, and reduces our fixation on self-gratification.
Faith in the Trinity when taken seriously can be illuminating and transformative. It can lead us to a fuller life and inspire us to better serve one another and the whole planet.
“Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.” (John Donne)