The Most Holy Trinity, Redbubble/DeoGratias.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.
But when she comes, the Spirit of truth,
she will guide you to all truth.
She will not speak on her own,
but she will speak what she hears,
and will declare to you the things that are coming.
She will glorify me,
because she will take from what is mine and declare it to you.
Everything that the Father has is mine;
for this reason I told you that she will take from what is mine
and declare it to you.” John 16:12-15.
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The above quotation is today’s gospel in its entirety, except…. Look back at last week’s Sunday Mass Readings for the rationale behind this difference from what you will hear in church today. In the Aramaic language, which Jesus almost certainly spoke, the gender of the word Spirit, רוח, ruakh, is feminine. So whenever Jesus spoke of God’s Holy Spirit, the words must have sounded like the above rendition of today’s gospel. That version above is as strange to our ears as today’s approved reading in English would be to Jesus’ ears! It would be even stranger if we listened to the literal translation from the Greek text (in which all the gospels are written) because the Greek word for spirit, πνεύμα, pneuma, is neuter, and Spirit would therefore be rendered as “it”, which would be utterly unacceptable in English! I guess “he” for the Spirit must have been the politically correct pronoun to use when English translations were being created. English speakers are not alone in this: Spirit is rendered the same way, masculine, in French. It might, however, come from the Latin translation of πνεύμα as spiritus, spirit, which is masculine in Latin. And there it has stayed for 2000 years. Unfortunately. But with this correction, which I prefer to call it, the understanding of the Holy Trinity, as far as we are able to do so, is much, much more understandable. But it does seem to open up many questions.
That being so, today we commemorate the most profound of all Christian truths: the reality, the mystery, of the Holy Trinity, one God, three Persons. It is a rational impossibility. In our logic, it cannot be. A thousand volumes have tried to rationalize this belief, but ultimately it is not in any way possible. You either accept it in faith or reject it in logic. That being so, what in our experience can at least echo this truth in some way? I believe there is a way which allows us to accept – embrace even – this teaching.
Traditional Symbol representing the Holy Trinity.
There is something in human experience which might help us understand, or at least accept the Trinity. It is the reality in our lives of love. I would not be surprised to find that almost as many books have been written about love as about the Trinity! Firstly, love requires at least two people to be real. Love unrequited, or not returned, is not love; it is frustration, emptiness, loneliness, rejection. True love is beauty, fullness, love of life and just about anything else that is fulfilling and positive. And love is not selfish. Those who claim they love another person and make sure no-one else can be close friends with that person, are possessive and smothering, not loving. Two people in love are very open to others and invite them into their presence happily. Those who visit the home of two who are utterly devoted to each other, experience immediately that they are welcome and are immediately at home with them. And furthermore, a couple who have been happily together for years will seem to know what the other is thinking and will even know what they are about to say; it is almost as if they have become one. And that, friends, is, I believe, the reflection or echo of the Holy Trinity whose love generates so strongly that we are all here as the result. We have, all of us, been loved into existence by God!
The Dogmatic Sarcophagus showing the Trinity creating Eve, 4th century, Vatican Museums, Vatican City State.
It is believed that the Old Testament has suggestions and hints at the reality of the Trinity scattered throughout. For example, Genesis 18:1-4 says this:
The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. 2 Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground. 3 He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord,[a] do not pass your servant by.4 Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree.
Note the language: “The Lord” presumably God was visiting him, then suddenly “three men” were standing there. No explanation at all, even when Abraham bows before the three and addresses them as “My Lord”. They were there to tell the 100-old man that his old wife would bear a son in due time. His wife Sarah was listening in and laughed at the prediction:
Abraham and Sarah were very old, and Sarah had stopped having her monthly periods. So Sarah laughed to herself and said, “Now that I am old and worn out, can I still enjoy sex? And besides, my husband is old too.” Then the LORD asked Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Can I really have a child when I am so old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? As I said, nine months from now I will return, and Sarah will have a son.” Because Sarah was afraid, she denied it. “I didn’t laugh,” she said. “Yes, you did,” he replied. “You laughed.”
(A pretty earthy translation here, the New King James Version). Sarah did in fact bear a son, Isaac, because with God anything is possible as the passage says, even for someone who argued with God and even laughed at God’s promise! And this was the first indication of God’s power after God’s first approach to Abram/Abraham in Genesis 12. And what a way to show power, a very old lady giving birth to a son! Positive, life-giving, fruitful and loving. But that one and three vision before Abraham, with no explanation, is taken by many Christians as an early indication of the Trinity. And finally there is the point I made last week, trying to make a case for the Holy Spirit of God bearing the power and majesty of the feminine ideal to complement the male ideal as borne by the Father, which eternally generates the Son in an everlasting outpouring of love which also brought all of us into existence. And there lies, I believe, the reality and truth of our irrational but profoundly real knowledge and experience of the Blessed Trinity of God. As I said last week, To love another person is to see the face of God, and Love isn’t love ’till you give it away. God wants us to live a life that is so filled with love that when we are eventually called to account, then we will be assumed into that same love which created us and love it for all eternity.
The Trinity, Girardin 1478, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio, USA.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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