St. Augustine famously wrote: “seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe so that you may understand.” His comment is applicable to Trinity Sunday. If we say we understand the Trinity then we probably don’t, because the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit is at the heart of our faith, and the finite cannot, by definition, grasp the Infinite. At best we see “through a glass darkly.”
That is not to surrender reason. God gave it to us so that we might come to a better understanding of Him, but He gave us other senses to make up for what reason alone cannot do. The Trinity is no more, or less amenable to reason than the other cornerstones of our Faith: that God became man in Jesus; and that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. If, as our secular culture demands, we have to give a scientific justification for our beliefs, Christians have tended to go in two directions: a fundamentalist insistence on the literal truth of Scripture and its inerrancy (or on the authority of the Church and its inerrancy) or a gradual yielding of ground to allow one method of perceiving the world primacy, as though Reason and Imagination are somehow opposed to each other, rather then being complementary ways of seeing the world.
If we yield to the view that “science” can make no “sense” of concepts such as the Resurrection and the Trinity, we are going down the wrong road.. That would be to give “science” a say in how we exercise our reason which leaves no place for Imagination, Experience and Emotion; it also attributes to “science” a place it does not claim for itself, that of the final arbiter over what life is for and what it means to be human.
In retreat, the Church has tended, in public, to emphasise morality. This is not to say that is a bad thing, and, at least while morality bore the marks of its origin in Christian belief, it was an easy place for the Church to proclaim its utility. But as Society withdraws from that inheritance, it gets more difficult, which is why the Church has such trouble in areas such as LGBT rights; those areas where Society is furthest away from the shared inheritance, create a problem which many in the Church think is solvable only by yeilding further ground.
But our faith is not “applied morality”. Its purpose is not to control us and make us behave. That is another secularist fantasy made real by those who fail to enter into an imaginative understanding of Faith. Our Faith has nothing to do with being good and everything to do with hope and love directed toward the Creator who made us because He loves us. The Trinity is Love. As St Isaac wrote:
In love did He bring the world into existence; in love does He guide it during this its temporal existence; in love is He going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of Him who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised.
That is the point being missed. Moral goodness is the product of loving God and of trying to be with Him as He is with us. As Martyn Percy writes in the Church Times:
God chose to abide with us in our temporality and frailty, so that we might abide with God in eternity. This is the heart of revelation: God is “with” us. Indeed, that small word “with” may be one of the most underrated in the scriptures. God always chooses to stay with us: we do not walk alone. We are never abandoned or orphaned: we are loved and adopted.
The Resurrection speaks to us of hope and God’s promise that death is not the end. The Trinity is the source of all love and life. As Malcolm Guite puts it in a wonderful poem which I commend to you all:
The Triune Poet makes us for His glory,
And makes us each the other’s inspiration.
He calls us out of darkness, chaos, chance,
To improvise a music of our own,
To sing the chord that calls us to the dance,
Three notes resounding from a single tone,
To sing the End in whom we all begin;
Our God beyond, beside us and within.
None of this is to deny the place of reason, but it is to put it in its place as one of the ways we engage with the world. But it is to remind us of what the atheist poet, Philip Larkin divined in his “An Arundel Tomb:”
And as we were created in love, so will we survive in it. Science has nothing to say here where the poets, musicians and artists alone can help our understanding.
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