“Thou art worthy, O Lord”
not talk about God. But what shall we say? How shall we speak? “He,
therefore that would be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity”, and
speak thus, too, we might add, think and speak in this way is what the
Athanasian Creed, so-called, demands.
But what is
that way of thinking and speaking? The way of affirmation and the way
of negation, to be sure, ways which recognize God as the fundamental
principle of the being of all things, on the one hand, and distinguish God
absolutely from everything, on the other hand. The interplay of these two
ways, so wonderfully laid out in the Athanasian Creed, avoid the twin
dangers of collapsing God into our discourse, into our ways of speaking, and
denying the possibility of thinking the truth of God altogether.
these twin dangers, which are the dangers of our culture both within and
without the Christian Churches, belong to a despair of revelation, a despair
of thinking God in the form of the witness of the Scriptures, on the one
hand, and in the form of philosophical and theological discourse, on the
other hand. It is the interplay of these two sides – the witness of
the Scriptures understood as the Revealed Word of God and the intellectual
integrity of our philosophical and theological traditions of reason – that
are at issue in our world and day.
And yet, it is
precisely what we celebrate today. Trinity Sunday is not about one
doctrine – one teaching - among many others. It is not a teaching for
one time and not for another as if it were merely some matter from the
dust-bin of history. No. It is the central and defining doctrine
of the Christian Faith, the doctrine which brings coherence and order to the
many, many ways of speaking about God in the Scriptures and in the great
religions and philosophies of the world. We cannot not think
God as Trinity. We cannot not speak of him as Trinity.
We behold a
mystery but the mystery lies not in what is concealed but in what is
revealed, the mystery which we can never hope nor want to exhaust and so
reduce to ourselves, the mystery, however, about which we are obliged to
speak and say something, to say, in fact, what God has given us to think and
say, the things which raise us up into the Spirit.
a door was opened in heaven” – not just a window through which we might
peer as in a glass darkly – but a door through which we might enter humbly.
We have been drawn into the mystery of the life of God, the God who is
declared to us unambiguously and without being collapsed into the world as
the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost; the God who is Trinity.
The Trinity is
not one image alongside of other images for our thinking and speaking about
God. It is the definite and comprehensive image which unites the whole
pageant of revelation in the witness of the Scriptures, the motions of
God for us, with the wonder and mystery of God in himself.
presents us with a great number of ways of thinking about God. The
traditions of philosophy and even individual human experience may suggest a
great number of ways of thinking about God. But this does not mean
that the Scriptures or human experience present simply a smorgasbord of
images about God from which we are each free to pile up our own salad plate
of divinity. For that would be merely a god for me and so no God at
all. We would empty the images of Scripture and experience of any
content and meaning. The doctrine of the Trinity, in fact, gives
coherence and meaning to the various images of God in Scripture, tradition
and reason, without which they fall into competing and mutually exclusive
positions and ultimately result in a kind of atheism.
God from everything else is to say that he is no thing, which is not
to say that God is nothing. It is to say that he is not one thing like
any other thing, another being in the vast plethora of beings. No.
God has to be utterly distinguished from being identified with the being of
the things of the world precisely as the cause and principle of their being.
How God can be related to the world and radically other than the world is
the real meaning of the doctrine of the Trinity. We celebrate nothing
less than the mystery of the divine relations – God’s own relation to
himself which is the principle of his relation to all else.
coherence and meaning to the images of Scripture because there is an order
and a hierarchy of images. The definite images are those of Father,
Son and Holy Ghost which at once suggest an intimacy and a remove.
These are precisely not images which are the projections of social and
political arrangements belonging to earlier cultures. God as Father is
not like a human father; nor is God as Son like a human son and, perhaps, it
is that elusive and ambiguous third, the Holy Ghost who most helps us to
realize the nature of the deep mysteries of God which cannot be reduced to
the world but which cannot be in flight from the world either. There
is the redemption of all the images of God through the definite revelation
of God as Trinity.
make this clear. It is all about worship, all about the worthiness of
God. It requires of us that we be born again, born anew, born from
above, which is to say that our minds have to be exercised upon the high
things of God which have been opened out to us through the witness of the
Scriptures given cogency and understanding in the Trinity and through the
exercise of our highest thinking, our thinking metaphysically.
“Thou art worthy, O Lord”