Reading Rambling – Holy Trinity Sunday

Date:  Holy Trinity Sunday, June 15, 2014

Texts: Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; Acts 2:14a, 22-36; Matthew 28:16-20

Context: Holy Trinity Sunday was instituted in the 14th century under Pope John XXII.  The Church resisted the establishment of a day specific to the Trinity for many centuries, arguing that the Trinity was regularly honored in every worship through the liturgy.  

Genesis 1:1-2:4a— Several factors in this passage point us to the idea of a single God with more than one aspect or person.  God singular creates the heavens and the earth as summarized in v.1.  The Spirit of God is referenced in v.2.  Creation is accomplished through God speaking, and the first chapter of John points out that the Son of God is the Word of God, through whom all creation came into being, and who became incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth.  Verse 26 has God referencing himself in the plural, a most curious thing indeed!  The one God is not merely singular, but plural! 

Psalm 8— Consideration of creation should naturally lead us to praise the God who created everything.  The glory of God is at least partially revealed in the magnificence of his creation.  Such magnificence should elicit praise from us as soon as we are able to notice it, as children and infants.  What power on earth can counter such praise, can undo the source that prompts such praise?  Considering the myriad wonders of nature, it should be truly humbling that humanity is considered the pinnacle of God’s achievements! 

Acts 2:14a, 22-36 — The first explicitly Trinitarian sermon occurs on Pentecost morning.  Peter repeatedly references God in three parts.  Jesus is accredited by God – he is not simply accrediting himself as God (v.29).  Jesus knew that God would fulfill his promise, not that Jesus intended to fulfill his own promise (v.30).  God raises Jesus to life (v.32), but more than this now Jesus is at the right hand of God (v.33), who is the Father, and who has sent the Holy Spirit.  The very first public proclamation of Jesus locates him in communion with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.  Not as three separate gods, but as three different aspects of a single God, the God of the Old Testament.  Those such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who claim that the Trinity is an abstraction and a creation of men rather than a faithful depiction of the true nature of God must contend with passages such as this.  While the Church did not explicitly codify the doctrine of the Trinity until the Nicene Creed in the early 4th century, it is clear from Scripture itself that God was proclaimed (not explained!) in three persons from the very beginning of the Church. 

Matthew 28:16-20—  Jesus himself refers to a three-fold God consisting of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  From his baptism to his ascension, Jesus maintains distinctions between himself and God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, even as He insists in their unity. 

This has been the goal of the Church then—to affirm what Jesus said and taught, neither shrinking back from it or adding to it.  This is incredibly difficult!  Early on it was clear that to speak of one God with three persons seems ludicrous.  Arius fell pray to trying to detract from what Jesus said, insisting that God the Father alone was rightly described as God, and that God the Son was a creation of God the Father.  There was a time, Arius insisted, when Jesus didn’t exist because God the Father hadn’t created him yet.  It may have been a very brief period of time, but it was enough for Arius to discard Trinitarian talk when defending Christianity to pagan philosophers. 

Athanasius  confronted Arius and insisted that he recant his position as heretical and confess one God in three persons as the Church had done from the beginning.  Arius refused, and serious conflict in the Church arose as people lined up behind Arius or Athanasius. 

The first ecumenical Council was convened at Nicaea in 325 to sort through this controversy and arrive at a determination of proper doctrine.   Arius was a persuasive and creative speaker and had won many to his point of view.  However ultimately the Council condemned Arius for this abbreviation of Jesus’ own language about his relationship to God the Father and Holy Spirit.  Arianism was ruled heresy, and while it did not die out immediately, the Church had affirmed faithfulness to the Bible with it the depiction of one God in three persons that Jesus himself affirmed.

We continue to struggle with how to talk about the Trinity, and we are often reduced simply to affirming that we can’t really talk about the Trinity very long at all before falling into heresy of one ilk or another.  It is simplest to try and talk about the Trinity in terms of what we see God doing.  God the Father as the creator and sustainer of all things.  God the Son as the redeemer of all things.  God the Holy Spirit as the giver of faith, who enables us to confess Jesus as the Son of God, and in doing so to be reconciled to God the Father.  We are safest when we talk in these terms and don’t attempt to explain or rationalize more than Scripture allows us to.  Many of the major heresies of the first few centuries of Christianity stem in one way or another from saying too much or not enough about the Trinity.

 

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