HomeCommentaryBALIK-TANAW: Reflections for Trinity Sunday

BALIK-TANAW: Reflections for Trinity Sunday

It wasn’t so long ago when many students of theology had to memorize the 5-4-3-2-1 formula to describe the Trinity—five notions, four relations, three persons, two processions, and one nature—to which the late great theologian, Bernard Lonergan, added, “and zero comprehension!“ For quite a long while even, the Trinity was hardly ever discussed formally, as observed by another great theologian, Karl Rahner.

The Trinity was and is, for many, one of those “mysteries of faith” that remains “mysterious,” something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain, but can only be blindly accepted “in faith.” Preachers up to now hardly go beyond shamrock/clover descriptions, turning pinwheels with varied primary colors, or lighting up three matchsticks with a single strike. Nice entertainment, but not much else.

It must first be admitted that the doctrines pertaining to the Trinity (4th century onwards, from the Council of Nicaea to subsequent ecumenical councils) are based on and framed in a language/worldview that is so different from ours. “Person,” “hypostatic union,” “procession,” “consubstantial,” etc. have very different meanings/connotations as compared to our usage nowadays. Indeed, even during the aforementioned ecumenical councils, the debating parties had to define, refine, and redefine their terms almost constantly.

We hereby present a few signposts to help us understand all this a bit better, while admitting, pace St Paul, that “for now we see through a glass, darkly.”

  1. The early followers of Christ, the first Christian communities/churches, expressed their prayers and liturgies “to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.” This was their defining mark. Indeed, one can say that this was/is the specifically Christian experience of God, as distinguished from Jewish, Gentile, or other religious traditions. Through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit, we know and are known to God.
  2. God is God; there is no dissimulation nor deceit in God. The God who relates to us is who God is. In Rahner’s words, “The economic Trinity [how God relates to us] is the immanent Trinity [God’s Godself] and vice versa.” Since God relates to us, God must also be relating in Godself.
  3. By the 4th century, the Platonic-Aristotelian concept of God as the “unmoved mover,” coupled with Gnostic undertones, could hardly be reconciled with the Christian concept of God as an eternal, personal Creator. In Nicaea and the following councils, the concept of “person” as relational entity (in Scholastic terms later, “subsistent relation”) gained wide acceptance. What is essential to “personhood” is relationality. I am the child of, sibling of, student of, friend of, etc. I am my relations; without them, I am not. Our God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob; the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; etc. A father is only a father once he has a son; they co-exist. God as Father and Son (and Holy Spirit) was at the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.

We cannot overemphasize that all these notions remain, at best, metaphorical/symbolic. “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become his counselor?” St Augustine talked about the Trinity, not in terms of Father-Son-Spirit, but used the idea and notion of love and its three parts—he that loves, that which is loved, and love.

What all this amounts to is the so-called “irrelevance” of the Trinity, the portrayal of trinitarian doctrine as too esoteric for ordinary believers, and, we need to add, our impoverished theology of the Holy Spirit (the almost neglected “third person”) are problems that much contemporary theology is still working hard to overcome. Perhaps, Catherine Mowry LaCugna sums it best: “Doxology is the praise of God, the appreciation of God as God apart from the benefits of God. In praising God we make no distinction between who God is as God, and who God is for us.”

In prayer, our relationship with God is best expressed humbly as praise, when our experience of salvation/wholeness segues into praise and worship: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.”

- Newsletter -

Gospel reflection of Fr. Ramon Coronel, MDJ, for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Balik-Tanaw is a group blog of the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR). The Lectionary Gospel reflection is an invitation for meditation, contemplation, and action.

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