Trinitarian Life

The apostle Paul would not have been able to define the Trinity, yet he was able with ease to describe the activity and presence of the three persons of the Trinity. While propositions about God are significant, it is the experience of God that led to the nascent formulations of Trinitarian thought. Neither Paul nor the other Jews who were the first disciples of Jesus were trained in the Greek philosophical distinctions that would mark the later conciliar decrees, nor were they hungering to innovate about the nature of God when they became disciples of Jesus.

What imposed itself upon these early believers was the experience of God in their midst. It was in Jesus that the nature of God was most fully revealed, yet initially this was through Jesus’ teaching about God. It would take some time for the disciples to understand what it meant that Jesus was the Son of God. It is certain that the understanding of Jesus’ divinity, while exploding into early Christian consciousness and experience, was not immediately clear. On three occasions in John’s Gospel, we are told that “his disciples did not understand these things at first” (12:16) or that “his disciples remembered” (2:17, 22) only after his resurrection. Even though Jesus’ sonship was made known to his disciples during his life, this did not lead directly to an understanding that Jesus was God.

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When the realization of the true nature of the revelation in Jesus Christ dawned on the church, the nature of God became even clearer: “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.” The experience of God’s love became known through God offering as savior God’s own Son. What more did that mean about the activity and nature of God and the Son? What did it mean that Jesus offered his disciples the Holy Spirit to comfort and teach them?

Paul, having never met the earthly Jesus, nevertheless through his encounter with the risen Lord and the growing church could speak of his experience of “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.” Grace, love and communion: this was the nature of God, not because Paul had created a new image or reality of God, but because Paul had experienced God as love, grace and fellowship. It was not that Judaism prior did not know and experience God’s mercy and grace—as Moses expresses it in the Book of Exodus, “the Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” It was just that with the revelation of Jesus Christ, Jesus’ disciples knew they had experienced God-with-them. How would they make sense of this reality?

In understanding the attributes of God as grace, love and communion, they not only had a sense of God’s continuity with the revelation of the past, but in ascribing these attributes to God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ, a new way of understanding the nature of God and the reality of God was forced upon them by the inexorable reality of experience. The Councils of Nicaea, Constantinople and Chalcedon would hundreds of years later try to make sense of the reality attested to in Scripture by Jesus, Paul and the other New Testament authors, but it is important to know that in the mystery of the Cross, the Resurrection, the giving of the Holy Spirit and the experience of God in their midst, the earliest Christians were attempting to be faithful to how God had sojourned among them. How God is one and three and how Jesus is both human and divine were not Christian attempts to complicate the simple divine reality but to bear witness to the truth of God, who came to dwell among them, who gave his life for them, who remained in their midst as the Holy Spirit. This was who God was, not because they could subtly define the Trinitarian nature of God, but because they experienced the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit.

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Bruce Snowden
4 years 4 months ago
Mr. Martens has asked that I (we) meditate on the nature of the Trinity. I just love this opportunity! I'm looking out a window in our apartment as I write and everything is green with new life after having endured a terrible winter in NYC. Everything looks so fresh and vibrant! There's also a fragrance of flora wafting through the partly opened window on a gentle breeze making everything look so happy, so filled with laughter!. I've just described a glimpse at the nature of our Trinitarian God, inadequately for sure, but clear enough to be acknowledged incarnatally, in a sense, like the Second Person, One with the Father and the Spirit, vibrant with life continually renewed, humanity (materiality) and Divinity circling the cosmos, a small part visible outside my window on which I have commented. The Trinitarian fingerprints are everywhere, voice too and all I hear is happy laughter! Happiness and laughter as only God can laugh, pulsate from within the essence of the Godhead, the Trinity and therefrom all creation claps its hands acknowledging as I have said many times before, that, God is an Evolutionary Spirit, evolving (proceeding) One from the Other everlastingly without beginning, without end! And from Divine fingertips new creations continually happen, new worlds joining the music of the cosmic fling! "My Father works even now," Jesus once said. We know that Holy Scripture has one principal message and as many secondary and tertiary messages that come to mind. "My Father works even now" means of course, first and foremost the salvific work of Redemption, but I think that in the mind of the Blessed Trinity Jesus was also hinting at the cosmological mastery still happening at the snap of the Father's fingers! So, all of this is a little spark of light allowing at least me to understand a little better the Trinitarian nature. I hope others too. But in the final analysis Trinity is utterly unfathomable, for who indeed has known the mind of God!
Bruce Snowden
4 years 4 months ago
Here's another thought on Trinitarian Life. St, John the Evangelist says, "God is love." I don't know if love creates dependency, or if dependency creates love. Does it work both ways? Can one exist without the other? This reflection appears to have at least some connective tissue to Trinitarian Life, creating it seems an all encompassing Trinitarian Dependency of Persons, One on the Other in everlasting love without beginning, without end. Does Father, Son, Holy Spirit actually live life dependent on one another? This does tend to create, explain rationally, a "Triune Oneness," One God, Three Persons I think. On the human level, say of love between husband and wife, dependency does exist, but as I said earlier I do not know if it is love that creates dependency, or dependency that creates love. Perhaps it is LOVE that creates dependency. If so, I think that reality pretty well explains Trinitarian Life, a truly human life too. O Holy Spirit on this the great feast of Pentecost, allow someone to come up with the right answer! Amen.

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