June 4, 2009

Trinity Sunday

At the heart of all true Christian spirituality is the great mystery of the Holy Trinity. This mystery revealed by Jesus is communicated directly into the depths of our hearts by faith in Him. Some people see the mystery as a puzzle to be solved and yet never solvable. Others try to describe the reality of Three Divine Persons in One God as a triangle or shamrock or some other metaphor. While some of these insights on occasion shed some light and answer some questions, very few of them actually lead to a deeper contemplation of the mystery. For those not content to approach God as a mere intellectual exercise, there are the great saints and mystics who have attempted to describe an experience of the Triune Godhead as something much more than a head-trip. This has been true since the very beginnings of our faith.

The Gospels profess the one God while at the same time they witness to the Father’s love of his “beloved Son,” Jesus’ love of his Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit who is also the “promise of the Father”. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit live in perfect possession of one another – each enveloped and enveloping the other Divine Persons in eternal being, inexhaustible knowing, and infinite love. In fact, it is their mutual relations in their divine life, light and love that distinguish each Divine Person. Thus, it is of apostolic tradition, in our earliest creeds, that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are to be worshipped as one God. The Fathers of the Church called this one God ‘the Three’ at least as early as 180 A.D. (See http://tinyurl.com/23tfmq.) A 19th Century mystic recovers this original usage for the Western Church when she refers to the Trinity as “my Three, my All, my beatitude, infinite solitude, immensity in which I loose myself.”

We do not appreciate the gravity of such assertions, how absolutely surprising this revelation is. The idea of a passionate God who lives in an eternal movement of love is not what cold reason or cynical experience prepares one for. The wisdom of this age always aspires to a changeless, disinterested Absolute without passion. The pure, the altruistic, the ideal must be objective – never personal. But the Christian God was never experienced as a static heartless reality by the mystics. Pseudo-Dionysius even speaks of “Divine Eros.”

In his usage, eros is a love that yearns for union. Love in this sense involves intense passion, yearning desire, and unquenchable movement. It is like a raging fire. Changing things were considered less real than the unchanging eternal truths. But through their faith, they experienced an eternal Furnace of burning Love at the source of all that is – at once, ever ancient and ever new. They no longer believed in the distant, disinterested, dispassionate Divine Being of the philosophers – They clung the dynamic, jealous, Lover of the Hebrews – the Bridegroom of the Bride.

The Gift of the Holy Spirit, the freely given personal presence of God dwelling in them as in a Temple, communicated this divine passion to them. Because the Spirit is inseparable from the Son, every time they received this gift, they knew and enjoyed the presence of the Risen Lord in ever new ways. They asserted that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit share in an unchangeable movement of Love, an ineffable life of communion in one undivided Nature not merely because they were told that this was so, but because only assertions like this could explain what was unfolding in their own heart. God, One in Three and Three in One, was for them not a confounding puzzle, but a heart rending mystery. St. Gregory of Nanzianzus relates, “I have not even begun to think of unity when the Trinity bathes me in its splendor. I have not even begun to think of the Trinity when unity grasps me.”

Up until now, we have only considered the inner life of the Trinity as it is experienced through the divine indwelling. The presence of God is dynamic. It evokes a response of the heart. We can ignore this dynamism – but only by becoming hard hearted. But to live by love, accepting the enveloping call of this mystery of love is required. The unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the loving dynamism of their living communion, calls on the very depths of our existence. It is to this love our life is directed. It is through being enveloped in this mystery that we discover the truth of who we really are. But we do not share in the inner life of God by nature – we participate in his life by grace. It is to the Gift of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the divine economy that we will turn to in our next post – because only through these gifts that we can glimpse God’s ultimate purpose, his dream for us to live in the bosom of the Holy Trinity.