A Sermon for Trinity Sunday
Fr. Robert Crouse
"Now the Catholic Faith is this,
that we worship one God in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity;
Neither confusing the Persons, nor dividing the Substance."
Through the weeks of the Church
Year so far, from Advent to Pentecost, the Church has set before us in
systematic order those mighty acts of God in which the work of our
Redemption is accomplished. In liturgy and preaching, in Word and
Sacrament, we have celebrated and witnessed to those things; and now, today,
on the Festival of God the Holy Trinity, all this is brought to a point of
culmination. We celebrate God as he has graciously revealed himself, as
Father, Son and Spirit - Three persons, yet one God.
Our creeds inform us that this
is to be believed, that the nature of God is this; but, really, what
intelligible content does it have? What is the meaning of this celebration
of God as Trinity?
Now the doctrine of the Trinity
is notoriously obscure, and even well-informed Christians sometimes think
themselves quite justified in knowing nothing whatever about it. One knows,
perhaps, that in the early church, great battles were fought, and even some
blood shed, over the refinement of those definitions; one knows, perhaps,
that the great Bishop Athanasius went five times into exile in this cause,
and that the mighty power of Rome was nearly shattered on this issue, but
what does it come to in the end? A formula, the jargon of philosophers and
theologians, which can never encompass the mystery of God: is that what it
amounts to in the end?
Certainly, the nature of
Almighty God is a mystery beyond all mysteries. The scriptures for today
serve to underline that fact. The infinite being of God is not to be
comprehended by the finite intellect. And yet, it is not an "unknown God"
we worship and we are called to serve God with the mind.
God is the ultimate mystery; and
yet there are some things about God which we can understand - for the
mystery has been revealed. "No one has ever seen God", says the Scripture,
"but the only begotten son has revealed him." "He who has seen me, has seen
the Father”, says Jesus to the disciple, Phillip.
There are some things about God
which we can understand, and indeed, there are some things about God which
we had better understand; for it is these things precisely which define our
peculiar faith as Christians, and give basis and shape to our spiritual life
as Christians. First among those truths is the doctrine of the Trinity.
All sorts of helpful
illustrations have been proposed, from St. Patrick's humble shamrock to
Dante's three concentric spheres: but perhaps the best and most enduring is
that worked out in St. Augustine’s great treatise On the Trinity,
where he illustrates the doctrine of the Trinity by the analogy of the human
soul. And this has the advantage of being more than just an illustration,
for the rational soul is the image of God, and therefore bears a certain
likeness to the divine nature.
One says of the soul three
things: it is; it knows; and it wills, or loves. And these three powers are
one soul: being, knowing and willing.
God is; God knows; and God
wills. God eternally begets his Word, the Son - that is the divine knowing;
and in that knowing, there proceeds God's love, God's will, the divine
Spirit. The Word begotten, the Spirit proceeding: Father, Son and Spirit:
one spiritual life, one substance, in which these three are co-equal,
God is not same abstract
principle, physical or mathematical or whatever; God is not impersonal force
in the universe. The actuality of God, being, knowing, and loving, Father,
Son, and Spirit, is the actuality of life. He is the living God. That is
what the doctrine of the Trinity means.
The Athanasian Creed says that
this doctrine is necessary to our salvation; and many people find it
offensive that this; or indeed any other, specific doctrine should be
thought so crucial as all that. Our older Prayer Books directed this creed
to be sung or said at Morning Prayer on certain major festivals: our present
Prayer Book says that it may be used on any day, but doesn't suggest any in
particular; and it has been placed near the back of the book, where it's
rather hard to find; it comes right after the Consecration of Church Yards.
But it is an official creed of the Church, and we should take its teaching
with the greatest seriousness, even if its language does seem rather harsh.
Well, what, after all, does it
mean to say that the doctrine of the Trinity is necessary to our salvation?
Simply this; I think: The end for which we are created is that we should
know and love God - that is what heaven is about. "Final felicity is the
pure contemplation of the noblest truth", said Aristotle in his Ethics.
To put that another way, our salvation finally consists in our worship - our
knowing and loving - the living God.
Some Christians find this a
difficult point. They suppose that our salvation consists in the many
activities we carry on in this world. But these activities are not ends in
themselves - they are means to an end, insofar as they inform our worship of
the living God, which alone can give these manifold activities final point
The doctrine of the Trinity is
not an obscure and antiquated theological formula: it is the revelation of
the truth of the living God, and it is that truth which must shape our
spiritual life as Christians.
In the knowledge of God consists
our eternal life, and therefore we rejoice in this festival, in the
revelation of Father, Son, and Spirit, one God, the living and the true, to
whom be all might, majesty, dominion and glory, now, and to all the ages of