For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:16-18 – NRSV)
1. Since the time of the first disciples, the Church has sought to name and defend the Incarnation. Concretely this led to serious disputes in the 3rd and 4th centuries.
a. Central to the Gospel narratives is the issue of Jesus’ identity. His disciples came to believe he was the “Anointed” – the Messiah (Hebrew), the Christ (from the Greek translation of the Hebrew word for Messiah).
b. This came to a head in the centuries that followed, with the so-called Arian heresy. A priest in Alexandria called Arius (256-336) gained quite a following for his teaching that Jesus was created by the Father – in other words, Jesus was human but not divine. This lay at the heart of the First Ecumenical Council, held in Nicaea (325). The statement of belief we call the Nicene Creed was substantially written by this Council.
c. The Creed of the Council of Nicaea was re-edited at the Council of Constantinople in 381, but not changed substantially. Already in the first version we have the Trinitarian faith affirmed.
2. In the Christian communities of Spain and Gaul, there emerged in the 5th and 6th centuries a special emphasis on the Trinity in both preaching and devotion. The Preface for the Feast of the Trinity which we use to this day was already in use by the middle of the 8th century in the Gelasian Sacramentary. (This is the second oldest liturgical book in the Christian tradition, dating from the 8th century. The Vatican library holds an 8th century manuscript of this book.)
3. There were Benedictine communities celebrating a Feast of the Trinity before 1000. However, Pope Alexander II (d 1077) is reported to have said that a Feast of the Blessed Trinity was no more warranted than a Feast of the Blessed Unity, since both are celebrated every Sunday. Nonetheless, the celebration of the Feast continued to spread. In 1334 Pope John XXII introduced it to the universal Church – during his exile in Avignon.
4. The Readings this year (Year A) express beautifully together the idea that God is a community of love:
a. Exodus (34:4-6 & 8-9) includes the seminal text: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful (raham) and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (hesed) and faithfulness (emet) ….”
b. The Second Reading from St Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians inlcudes the last verse of that Letter with its Trinitarian formula: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”
St Augustine reminds us that “if you are able to understand what you are saying about God, it is not God.” [St Augustine, Sermon, LII, vi, 16] Any speech about God can, at best point to a horizon. It is as if our words and concepts take us to a lookout that faces a certain direction and leaves us there to contemplate the horizon – beyond which is God.
The language about a “Trinitarian God” must be spoken and heard in this context.
The opening words of our Gospel take us to the lookout which faces in the direction of love: “For God so loved the world ….” We are left to contemplate that horizon.
When we human beings are at our best, we have hints and suggestions as to what might lie over that horizon. And we wait. We remain silent and still. We contemplate.
Contemplation comes to fruition when we experience it, not as something we are doing, but something that is being done in us and with us.
“You almost hear fingerprints
Graft and take root
Like tiny galaxies;
The Other Intelligence
Trying the doorknob.”
[Thomas Johnson, Poetry, 120 (1972) p.136. Cited by John Dominic Crossan, In Parables: The Challenge of the Historical Jesus, Polebridge Press, 1992, 1.]
Michael Whelan SM
“But do you let yourself be looked at by the Lord? Letting ourselves be gazed upon by the Lord. He looks at us and this is itself a way of praying. Do you let yourselves be gazed upon by the Lord? But how do you do this? You look at the tabernacle and you let yourselves be looked at… it is simple! ‘It is a bit boring, I fall asleep’. Fall asleep then, sleep! He is still looking at you. But know for sure that he is looking at you! This is much more important than having the title of catechist. It is part of ‘being’ a catechist. This warms the heart, igniting the fire of friendship with the Lord, making you feel that he truly sees you, that he is close to you and loves you.” (Address of Pope Francis to the Participants at the International Congress on Catechesis, 27 September 2013)