Trinity Sunday 2008

Trinity Sunday
May 18, 2008
Verse 8 from Revelation 4:1-11
“I Tell You Of Heavenly Things”

You and I were baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, that is to say, we were grafted into the Mystical Body of Christ in the Name of The Most Holy Trinity.

If you did not know before, may I will tell you where you will find the Name of the Most Holy Trinity invoked in a political document, important to these United States as a nation, and to us a free people living in a democratic society. The name of the Most Holy Trinity is to be found in the Preface of the Treaty of Paris of September 3, 1783. The treaty that ended all hostilities between Great Britain and her former American colonies, the newly formed United States of America.

The Preface declares the treaty to be “in the name of the most holy and undivided Trinity,” and then goes on to state the good faith of the signatories, and declares the intention of both parties to “forget all past misunderstandings and differences” and “secure to both perpetual peace and harmony.” Its a bit of a surprise to find the Trinity being invoked in what is essentially a document of state.

Well now I will tell you of a spiritual document where you would expect to find the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, but you won’t! You won’t find the title or term anywhere in the Holy Bible, not in Old Testa-ment, nor in the Apocrapha, nor in the New Testament. Well if the Name of the Holy Trinity isn’t mentioned in the Holy Bible, how did the term and theological doctrine come into use in Catholic Christendom?

As I stated a moment ago, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not taught in the Old Testament. However, in many places in the Old Testament, expressions are used in which some of the Fathers of the Church saw references or foreshadowing of the Trinity. The Book of Exodus records that as Moses approached the burning bush, the Lord God identified and introduced himself to Moses with these words: ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ Was God introducing Himself as three Gods, or as One God but at the same time Triune?

We find another reference in the Vision of Isaiah (This morning’s Old Testament lesson): In reference to the Seraphim, Isaiah describes, ‘…One called to another and said: “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” ’ The triple acclamation to God is seen as an acknowledgement that He is Three Persons. But there is no actual use of the word, Trinity.

The revelation of the truth of the triune life of God was first made in the New Testament, where the earliest references come from the mouth of Jesus himself, as he gave the Divine Commission to his disciples to ‘go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost…’. Our Lord’s words make reference to Three Persons; but again there is no actual use of the word Trinity.

There seems to be another direct reference to the Three Divine Persons in the 2nd Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, where he concludes with the blessing: ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost be with you all.’ But again, we find no actual use of the word Trinity. The as-yet-undeveloped doctrine pertaining to the Most Holy Trinity is most easily seen in St. Paul’s recurrent use of the terms God, Lord, and Spirit.

And echoing the words of Isaiah’s Vision, the Book of Revelation (the reading this morning) reveals
‘the four living creatures’ round the heavenly Throne ‘never cease to sing “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come” ’. But still, no actual use of the word Trinity.

Among the Apostolic Fathers, Clement of Rome (either St. Peter’s second or third successor), writing to the Church of Corinth in the final decade of the 1st century, bears witness to God the Father, to the Son, to the Spirit, and mentions all three together. But he makes no actual reference whatsoever to a Trinity of persons.

For Justin, who was martyred in 165 A.D., the Godhead was very clearly a triad. Though it was Theophilus, the 2nd century Bishop of Antioch, who first introduced the expression Triad. No writer in this most ancient period raised the question that would turn out to be decisive. For the 2d century theologians a crucial question to be resolved was clear: What was the relation of the Son and the Spirit to the Godhead. But a Trinitarian solution was still off in the future.

A group of individual Christian writers, who lived within the years 120 to 220 A.D. first
addressed themselves to the task of making a reasoned defence of the faith. They are identified in the history of the Church as the Apologists. The Apologists were, in a sense, the Church’s first theologians. In the Apologists we see a belief in the unity of God and in a trinity of divine ‘persons,’ Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, although there is as yet no distinct conception of divine person and divine nature.

The problem which principally exercised them was the relation of Christ to the Godhead. As compared with their thoughts about Christ, the Apologists appear to have been extremely vague as to the exact status and role of the Spirit, whose essential function in their eyes would seem to have been His inspiration of the prophets. Like the Word, He shared the divine nature. In spite of incoherencies amongst them, the features and characters of a developing Trinitarian doctrine are clearly discernible in the Apologists.

Concerning the nature of the Son of God, soon to the stage came the great Arian heresy, which the Church had choice but to condemn and in so doing issued forth the beginnings of what came to be known as the Nicene Creed.

In the New Testament, affirmations about the Son pertained largely to our salvation through Christ, and stressed what the Son is to us. Arians willingly recited these affirmations but read into them their own meaning. To correct the Arian abuse the 1st Council of Nicea transposed the Biblical affirmations into ontological formulas, and gathered the multiplicity of scriptural affirmations of titles, symbols, images, and attributes about the Son into a single theological formula that the Son is not made but ‘begotten’ of the Father, true God from true God, and consubstantial with the Father.

The Nicene concept of the Trinity may not literally be spelled out in the Bible, but undeniably the Apostles and the Scriptures and the sub-Apostolic Church clearly believed and taught that Jesus was both pre-existent and fully divine!

Before your mind grows weary and your eyelids grow heavy from all this sharing of information about the Church’s earliest attempts under the Guidance of the Holy Spirit to define clearly the relationship of the Son to the Father, suffice to say it was important for the Church to come to a clear understanding that would prove to be consistent with the testimony of the Scriptures.

I commented earlier that the word Trinity is not found in the Bible. But hear these words from a prayer of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna around 150 A.D.. ‘I praise you for all things, I bless you, I glorify you, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, with whom, to you and the Holy Spirit, be glory both now and to all coming ages. Amen.’ Though he includes all three Persons, he does not address his prayer specifically to a Trinity.

The term Trinity was first used in the last decade of the 2nd century, by Tertullian, an African Church Father. Listen to it being used also by a 2nd century Christian Apologist and contemporary of Tertulian, Theophilus of Antioch. In his teaching about the days of the Creation, he uses the expression, ‘types of the Trinity, of God, and His Word, and His wisdom.’ This was the earliest common use of the word ‘Trinity’.

In 190 A.D., Clement of Alexandria is comfortable with the use of the term, when in a dissertation about the Holy Spirit being third and the Son being second, he affirms, ‘I understand nothing else than the Holy Trinity to be meant…’ In the beginning of the 3rd century, in 225 A.D., Origen wrote, “Saving baptism was not complete except by the authority of the most excellent Trinity of them all, by the naming of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

But the term Trinity did not find a formal place in the theology of the Church until the 4th century, and found it through none other than the Champion of theological orthodoxy, Athanasius, who single-handedly saved Christ’s Church from the Arian heresy. Declared Athanasius, ‘The Trinity is a Trinity not merely in name or in a figurative manner of speaking; rather, it is a Trinity in truth and in actual existence. Just as the Father is he that is, so also his Word is one that is and is God over all. And neither is the Holy Spirit non-existent but actually exists and has true being. Less than these the Catholic Church does not hold.

Composed somewhere between 381 and 428 A.D., and thought by some to be attributable to Ambrose of Milan, The Athanasian Creed, reaffirms the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the importance and necessity of ones personal belief in it, with this admonition: ‘…Let him who wishes to be saved, think thus concerning the Trinity…This is the Catholic faith; unless everyone believes this faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.”

In many Churches today congregations will at one point sing the hymn entitled “St. Patrick,” after the mid 5th century saint. A hymn in which are contained words based on those of his own composing, “I bind to myself today the strong power of an invocation of the Trinity–the faith of the Trinity in Unity, the Creator of the universe’.

Yes today we celebrate and bind to ourselves not merely a word, not simply a name, not only a title, but a living, spiritual reality – the greatest spiritual reality above all that ever WAS, and IS and ever SHALL BE, the wonder of the Holy and Most Blessed Trinity, the Three Divine Persons in One God. The Eternal Father, who with the only-begotten Son, and the Holy Ghost, art one God, one Lord, in Trinity of Persons and in Unity of Substance. Of whose glory: That which we believe of the Father, the same we believe of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, without any difference of inequality, unto Ages of Ages.

Father, Son and Holy Ghost, One God, O come let us adore Him. To the Holy and Most Blessed Trinity, we offer all our Praise, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. AMEN.