Trinity Sunday Reflection
All of us face the same difficulty in life; we face the reality that changes and values that appear to contradict each other. We change and reality also changes; yesterday I was but a child, I did not experience my changing, yet now I am in the winter of my life. I may cling to the yesterday of today, I may fail to recognise the changes in my new reality, but I cannot outrun my own humanity. These are juxtapositions of thoughts and ideas that are each true in themselves, yet tear each other apart as they are placed side-by-side.
As we face the difficulty of articulating these truths within our language, we create new words around which we can create doctrines that keep us safely within the box of what is acceptable and what must be rejected. Most conflicts start at this very level of misunderstood linguistic gymnastics. Trinity, three, but actually only one! So we call it a mystery and move on with our lives.
It was the Apostolic Father Tertullian, who, in the year 213, created the word ‘Trinity’ to describe the nature and the essence of God. He could not have guessed that for the next 1500 year period arguments would continue grappling with this juxtaposition. In the course of expounding his argument, he employed the word personae to express the principle of plurality in the Christian notion of the Godhead. And alongside this word he ranged the term substantia in order to express the companion tenet of unity in the Christian God. This formula, ‘una substantia in tribus personis’, soon came to have something like normative status in Western theology, and this status was achieved despite the fact that the apparent conciseness of the formula only hides a real vagueness of meaning in its terms.
Many pastors today face the same difficulty as they prepare their homilies for this particular feast day. Many will choose the option of copy and paste, using one or other of these preferred arguments used over the last 1500 years. The theologian Karl Rahner noted that if this particular word, ‘Trinity’, were to be written out of our theological language, it will be totally forgotten in less than 50 years.
Western theology has indeed painted itself into a corner. As we write off our own dynamic participation in Trinity in order to maintain God’s total immutability and transcendence outside of creation, we also negate the need for this concept of Trinity within the God-head.
Jesus understood exactly what he was saying as he spoke to his disciples noting that the truth needs time to unfold, ‘Right now you cannot bear them… But when the spirit of truth comes, he will guide you on the way’. As we move into the blinding light of truth, uncertainty and fear overtake us and we turned back towards what is familiar. Love itself requires a vulnerability that we find fearful. True love requires a letting go of control; laying aside our cherished autonomy. This is truly fearful and is to be found at the core of all our original woundedness.
How Our Consciousness Expands Through Time
Perhaps looking into the eyes of your newly born child, we may have experienced true gift love that changes forever who we are and how we see everything in the world. Some of us may even have seen the heroic power of gift love that transcends all selfishness and time itself. We may even have known the pain of giving oneself in gift love. Yet the promise of Jesus continues to unfold for all of us, as little by little our understanding and consciousness expands.
Historical time, seen as a single drop of spray from the wave above the ocean’s depths. Each of our lives as a tiny atom within that drop of spray is contained within the immensity of eternity. We see this as fragmented and separate, yet all are connected. The atom within the drop and the drop within the spray; the spray within the wave and the wave within the ocean; all connected.
This is the working of God as Trinity within historical time, continuing yet already completed within eternity. This is what makes possible the human heart that beats the core of the Trinity. This is Trinity in creation beyond blueprint, as the very essence of Being, the DNA of creation.
And now we have another new word given to us by the Spanish Catholic theologian Raimon Panikkar: Cosmotheandric (Cosmos/ God/ humanity). He describes this cosmotheandric intuition as the totally integrated vision of the seamless fabric of the entire reality… the undivided consciousness of the totality. There are not three realities: God, Man, and the World; but neither is there one, whether God, Man or World. Reality is cosmotheandric. It is our way of looking that makes reality appear to us at times under one aspect, at times under another. God, Man, and World are, so to speak, in an intimate and constitutive collaboration to construct Reality, to make history advance, to continue creation.
Just as the full humanity of Jesus was brought into unity with the Word, we also are called to bring our very self, our community, and the entire world into unity with the Trinitarian reality out of which everything arises. This does not require any additional ideology to impose on reality. In order to overcome our perspective which is narrowed down and fragmented, we need but to open and to hold a space of silence that overcomes our programming and touches our collective awareness to the transcendent reality. This is how we participate in the dynamic life of the Trinity.
Panikkar proposes living this new innocence that frees us from the longing of perfection, the longing to be better than the next, so as to open ourselves to this triple dimension of reality, open to others, to the world, and to God that we might achieve harmonious communion with them all: the cosmotheandric reconciliation. It is a matter of experience more mystical and ineffable than philosophic in the traditional sense.
“If the Christian message means something, it is this experience of the cosmotheandric reality of all being, of which Jesus Christ, true God, and true Man, is the paradigm. In Christ Matter is not on its own, nor is Man on one side and God on the other; none of these intrinsically united dimensions surpass the others so that it does not make sense to affirm that Christ is more divine than human, more worldly than heavenly, or vice versa. The veil of separation has been torn, and the integration of reality begins with the redemption of man” (Culto y secularización. Apuntes para una antropología litúrgica, Madrid 1979).
In the Franciscan intellectual tradition of St Bonaventure and Blessed John Duns Scotus, this understanding already started blossoming. Once we have experienced this imprint of God, we will continue to see it everywhere in creation. For us as Franciscans, this is termed panantheism: all creation is a physical manifestation of God and is sacred, but creation is not the totality of God.