"If God is Trinity and Jesus is the face of God, then it is a benevolent universe. God is not someone to be afraid of, but is the Ground of Being and is on our side." Richard Rohr
Trinitarian theology is possibly the most complex, mysterious and yet foundational understanding to grasp. It is like trying to hold water in your hand, forcing the enquirer to either be happy with ‘not fully knowing’ or to adopt a formula that attempts to explain or categorise God.
Our first hint of Trinitarian language is given to us in the words of Genesis 1:26
"Let US make humanity in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves.”
Here we are introduced to the divine community, not named until Jesus presented the human metaphors of Father, Son and the invisible Ghost, or Holy Spirit in John 14. What was Jesus talking about?
For the 500 years following the inception of Christianity there was a progression of thought based on the burning questions of the day. Who (or what) is the nature of God? Is God one solitary being who set things in motion and watches over all from a distance? A God considered as ‘substance’, standing alone and independent of all. At the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, the church confirmed that Jesus was one substance with God, naming Him as God, and by 381 AD it was also formally agreed that Holy Spirit was a divine member of this Holy Community. By the late 4th and early 5th Century, Trinitarian theologians such as St Augustine spoke of God as one substance (or essence) and three persons (hypostases, faces).
Confusing? Yes! By design!
But what we believe about God directly impacts what we think about ourselves, how we relate with one another and the world around us.
As the centuries unfolded and scientific studies of the nature of the universe became part of the discussion, contemporary understandings have invited a re-thinking of the God-head, one that moves from a Being that exists somewhere outside of us (substance), to God being Relationship itself, Being itself, or even the Ground of All Being.
God may be understood as three persons (hypostases) or faces, sharing one divine essence. This one essence IS the love expressed between the Father, Son and Spirit; or, as some have offered, ‘the Spirit is the Love expressed between the Father and Son.’ The Spirit of God is God’s outpouring of love onto humans and the natural world, the life force of everything and the essence of all of our being. God can only be Father because there is a Son, and the Son can only be so because there is a Father. God is God by nature of relationship, expressed in a community of oneness, inviting humans to image and be true to the nature of who we also are.
An image that captures the heart of this divine community is the 15th Century Iconographer Rubliev’s ‘Holy Trinity’, where the three persons or faces of God are gazing inwards towards one another, and also towards a mirror that can be seen attached to the front of the table where they are sitting. The viewer is invited to look into the mirror, and when doing so is able to see herself as part of and belonging to this community. In this way we are invited to the table of God, not as observers but as ones who participate, who image God fulfilling the design portrayed in Genesis 1.
I have a face that only you see, and vice versa. Perhaps the invitation here is to see ‘into’ each other, bypassing the masks and glossy exteriors, looking deep within to reveal the image of God that resides at the essence of our being, helping each other be our true selves.
"The Way of Jesus is an invitation to a Trinitarian way of living, loving, and relating—on earth as it is in the Godhead. We are intrinsically like the Trinity, living in an absolute relatedness. To stand outside of this flow is to live within the deepest meaning of sin." Richard Rohr.
Herein lies the challenge of humanity. Will we live as separate beings, or will we embrace our place in the Divine Community and live in the flow of the Spirit?