The New Testament calls God a trinity. In today’s second reading, for example, Paul bids the Corinthians farewell with the blessing of God, Jesus and the Spirit. Matthew’s Gospel is even more explicit. Jesus sends the disciples out to baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” This line appears in every ancient version of the text and in early texts like the Didache. Another example appears in 1 Pt 1:1-2, which contains an explicitly trinitarian theology of salvation. Although the specifics took centuries, the trinitarian nature of God was clear to many early Christians.
‘If I find favor with you, O Lord, do come along in our company.’ (Ex 34:9)
How have you encountered God as Trinity?
How have you invited others to share in God’s community?
The Father was the transcendent creator, the awe-inspiring being, so great that even the hem of his garment filled the Temple in Isaiah's vision (6:1). It was he who led Israel from slavery to freedom and he who restored Israel repeatedly when they rebelled. The Father was the “Almighty,” ruler of heaven and earth, Adonai in the Hebrew Scriptures and kyrios among Jews who spoke Greek.
The Son was Jesus Christ, the obedient servant, glorified and seated at the Father’s right hand. He would return at some future time to judge the living and dead. Within a generation of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the first Christians called the Son kyrios as well, seeing in him the “one like a son of man” of Dn 7:14 who shared the Father’s attributes.
The Spirit was the Father’s essence, literally, his “life-breath.” It was this “life-breath” that spoke to Moses, raised Jesus from the dead and was now available to anyone who received baptism. This “life-breath” is the “eternal life” of today’s Gospel: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” To be baptized into the Spirit was to be plunged into the fire of Sinai and the passion of Christ.
What might get lost in this elegant theology is that the Trinity does not act merely for God’s own glory, but to form a people.
That humanity had encountered God in these three ways was obvious to early Christians. The question that took centuries to sort out was, “Is God like really like this, or is it the weakness of the human mind that makes God seem this way?” Over time, Christians came to recognize that God really was a trinity. To paraphrase Athanasius of Alexandria, the Father is a spring, the Son is the water and the Spirit is the drink we take. Each plays a role in every divine action.
What might get lost in this elegant theology is that the Trinity does not act merely for God’s own glory but to form a people. The cosmic creator finished work with the first man and woman. The Almighty called Moses in order to establish Israel. The Father rescued his Son from death and gave birth to a church through the gift of the Spirit.
All creation extends from a trinitarian community. For Christians, this is the true nature of reality. There is no solitary god and no friendless human. The love that the Trinity shares within itself is the rightful inheritance of every person. If today’s feast teaches any lesson, it is that estrangement is a sacrilege and alienation a blasphemy. Christ draws his disciples into the Father’s love only to send them forth in the Spirit to seek out the lost and call them home.