Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Holy Mystery

Sunday was Trinity Sunday, and this year my take was a little different. Don’t get me wrong, I did not reinvent or offer anything new in Trinitarian theology, but I started in a different place. It seemed of some use to think about the historical developments of Trinitarian thought, and why Christians ever asked questions answered by the concept of the Trinity.

The Early Church understood well that the Bible offered three experiences of God. They knew God the Father from Judaism. They had lived and worked with the Son in the person of Jesus. They also received the Spirit that Jesus promised them. It is clear that the early thinkers got this, and one such theologian, Tertullian first used the Trinitarian formula sometime around 180 C.E.

As time went on and Christianity became established as the official religion of the unified Roman Empire under Constantine, Christians had the time, and apparently, the inclination to delve more deeply into theological specifics. There were questions related to the nature of creation and the creator. Some held that an inferior god created the universe, and Jesus was a new God solution to the broken creation. The very nature of the divinity/human mixture that comprised Jesus was an important argument. The role of the Spirit was examined as well.

Camps formed around individual theologians that held various opinions on the above issues and more. These groups devolved into rival factions, and the rivalry did not escape the notice of Constantine. Eventually, he ordered the bishops and clergy to gather, and sort out these questions. The result is the Nicene Creed, which offers, a certain but not perfect, clarification of many of the divisive issues the early Christians faced.

So, here is my punch line. Around the Church, the doctrine of the Trinity has the reputation of being difficult. You often hear clergy decry the effort required to preach about it. Many just check out saying it is impossible to full grasp, and is therefore deemed irrelevant. My theory is that the difficult reputation stems from the controversy- laden origins of the development of the doctrine. We forget that once the argument was over and the Trinity was settled, so to speak, those that rejected it were invited to leave. So, the acceptance of the formal articulation related to the Nicene Creed determined whether you were in or out. I think we have a hang over from the settlement of the argument.

I purpose, we view the Trinity for what it is. It is the most complete attempt to say something about the nature of God. Ultimately, the Trinity is descriptive. Humans have experienced, and continue to experience, God in various ways. We know a Father, a Son/brother and an animating Spirit. The Three urge us forward and bind us together. We know all those experiences to be of one source, and yet each has a vitality and individuality all their own. It seems fitting that God would choose to reveal the essence of God’s reality, not as a single manifestation, but as three persons locked together in Love.

I don’t need an argument ender. I need a God that personally relates to us creatures. The Good News-that is precisely what we have in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

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