Genesis 1:1-2, 4a
…We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity,
neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.
For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost.
The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate.
The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.
The whole thing is incomprehensible if you ask me….
Today marks Trinity Sunday – one of the seven principal feasts of the church. What I just read is a portion (a very small portion, by the way) of the Athenesian Creed – one of a number of products of the impassioned, contentious, protracted 4th century debate about the nature of the of the relationship of God and Christ, and possibly the Holy Spirit, depending on who you talked to. Landing on the wrong side of that debate in the 4th century could get you exiled, disenfranchised or worse. Athenesius himself was exiled a total of 5 times. This was not a 2 -sided debate. We had Adoptionism, Sabellianism, modalism, modal manarchism and Arianism.
While this theological battle raged, Emperor Constantine credited the Christian God for his own victory in a more physical war. He converted to Christianity, bringing his armies and his empire with him. Theologians may thrive on the tension of uncertainty using it to stretch their spiritual limits, to flex their faith muscles. Nations and armies need certainties, defined limits, discipline. Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicea to lend some clarity to the situation.
The most vigorous debate came down to a controversy between the council’s opinion and the opinion of a fellow named Arius. Super simple version – Arius taught that Jesus was divine, and that God sent him to earth for the salvation of mankind; but Jesus Christ was not equal to the Father or the Holy Spirit. Arius could not conceive of a God who needed another – if Christ was co-eternal with the Creator, it implied to Arius that the Creator might be vulnerable – an unacceptable attribute in the One God. The Council of Nicea described the relationship between the Father and Son instead as Homoousios or Consubstantiality, meaning “of the same substance” or “of one being”. By extension, the Creator’s eternal co-existence with the Son, with the Spirit suggests that God exists in relationship.
Today, in the face of dwindling church numbers, shaky economy, violence against innocents, rising waters and all the rigors and concerns of daily life, it is possible that the critical import of Arius’s “anhomoios” versus the council’s “homoousios” might escape our immediate attention. Why should we care about a political struggle in the 4th century church? Why should we care about a clash in ancient esoteric philosophies?
The Rev. Suzanne Guthrie writes, “The greatest minds of Christendom have applied reason, philosophical rigor, depth and breadth to understanding and interpreting the the church’s experience of “Father” “Son” and “Holy Spirit”. But in the end, knowing God is as illusive as predicting a firefly’s trajectory over a field of hay after dusk, as futile as keeping track of a drop of rain fallen into the ocean in a storm, as blinding as gazing directly at the sun. But contemplating Trinity offers lessons in the dynamism of creation, incarnation, delight, genesis, the inter-relationship of being, of nothing, of everything, of darkness, of light.”
Forget the Greek double speak. Forget the political intrigue and the church politics. Forget the insane math – 3 = 1 – you’ll never get it to make logical sense. Even St. Augustine of Hippo in his own treatise on the Trinity, cautions against those who “allow themselves to be deceived through an unseasonable and misguided love of reason.” It’s not about about logic. It never was. It’s about love; it’s about relationship.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer – one God – eternally in relationship. This is not a God, alone, distant and indifferent. This is a God who lives in, as theologian Arthur McGill states, “a unity of love, a unity in which the identity of each party is not swallowed up and annihilated, but established”
Formed in the image of God, we are created to live in relationship. In an article on trust in the Harvard Business Review in 2009, Roderick Kramer wrote: “Within one hour of birth, a human infant will draw her head back to look into the eyes and face of the person gazing at her. Within a few more hours, the infant will orient her head in the direction of her mother’s voice. And, unbelievable as it may seem, it’s only a matter of hours before the infant can actually mimic a caretaker’s expressions. A baby’s mother, in turn, responds and mimics her child’s expressions and emotions within seconds. In short, we’re social beings from the get-go: We’re born to be engaged and to engage others.” To engage others, and to be engaged with God and all God’s creation. As one commentator (Steven Eason, Feasting on the Word) says, “We are immersed into the whole being of God, whether we understand it or not. We are not powerless in the world; we are not disconnected from the omnipotent God as Creator or from the redeeming work of God in human flesh, or from the very presence of that same God in the holy Spirit, who dwells within us and among us.”
“I am a rock, I am an Island” crooned songsters Simon and Garfunkel. The rate the water is rising, this may be truer than we know. But we live that way regardless of the water level much of this time in this culture that prizes individual achievement and climbing up the social/economic ladder regardless of who or what stands on the rung above. It’s a lonely way to live.
God in Christ through the Holy Spirit invites us to another way, living in community, living in love, living in justice. Living in community with the waters and the skies, with the swarms of living creatures, with the birds and the trees, with all of human kind, created in God’s image. Living in relationship with a relational God, we can kick over the ladder and leave our lonely islands. We needn’t give up our individual selves, only our selfishness. God will be with us, ever and always, to the end of the age.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.