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His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI
The readings at today’s Mass do not use the word Trinity at all. But God is presented as Father in the Old Testament (Dt 32:6; Mal 2:10), and this continues in the New.
In the New Testament we know of the Holy Trinity because Jesus told us of his heavenly Father, and of the Holy Spirit, and because of the claims he made for himself. He talked of his Father in touching and intimate terms. He called him Abba, the ordinary language used by a son for a father in that society then. Indeed some of his listeners were shocked at such intimacy. How could a man of an inferior social class, with no formal education, presume to be so familiar with the God whose name, out of awe and reverence, they would not even pronounce? (Jn 10:33). Yet Jesus called him Father and in such a way that those believing in him could also use that mode of address as their own: Our Father. Jesus was clear about his relationship to God as Son. I have honoured my Father and you have not honoured me (Jn 8:49). The Father and I are one (Jn 10:30). He who sees me sees the Father (Jn 14:9). No one knows the Father except the Son and none knows the Son except the Father and those to whom he chooses to reveal him (Mt 11:27).
The Nature of Fatherhood and Sonship
To address the living God as Holy Trinity is rare even in prayer, even for us. Personal terms are preferred. A little example from ordinary life will help us understand why. People who have an office of political or social significance are far from us for as long as we know them only by the title they bear. We like to have descriptions of them. It is when we begin to talk about their characteristics that we get a feel for them. Now it must be not altogether unlike that with God. Holy Trinity as Holy Trinity is normally spelt out as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One would be surprised if people speaking of buildings like Trinity Colleges in universities ever reflect on that, e.g. Trinity College Oxford, or Cambridge, Trinity and All Saints etc. The New Testament writers however talk about God as Father and Son and Holy Spirit. Following them we can pray to each of the three Persons in a personal way. We relate with them somewhat as in ordinary life, when we think of our family. Father should normally convey the image of authority and loving affection. Traditionally in human experience he is the one with whom we can reciprocate love, who does not overawe us by showing us how much better he is than us. The image of God as Father especially evokes love and compassion (Ps 102). God the Father in Biblical terms is the one who urges the Jews to be faithful, to be kind to each other, to have a care for those who have no father, orphans and widows. it is the Jewish mission to tell the world that God is the creator Father of the human family, for everyone, that he created them in his own image and likeness (Gen 1:26), and that he loves them with an eternal love (Jr 31:31). It is because we have received all this that we can love him. We have experienced himin some way in our life; we do not love an abstraction. Collect my tears in your wineskin (Ps 56:8).
The Son we know as Jesus of Nazareth.
We relate personally with Jesus. As Son he was with the Father at the creation of the world (Jn 1:1ff.). Yet he came among us as a man, with a human mother, doing his Father’s will: I do everything that pleases him (Jn 8:29), he said. He assured the disciples that the heavenly Father knew they had need of all the things they worried about (Mt 6:32), that the very hairs on their head were numbered (Mt 10:30). When the disciples had met Jesus God seemed ever more a Father and they learned anew what sonship was (Jn 14:9): devotion and care, care for what the Father cared for – following the path of love, even to the point of the Son’s dying for what he had proclaimed and lived. With his departure the Son would not leave the disciples orphans (Jn14:18): the Holy Spirit, the love of the Father and the Son would be sent to comfort, to console, to water the arid wastes of selfishness, to keep the wilful from going astray, to heal the wounds of those who are lonely in the world. It is all expressed in such a human way. Emotions are engaged, not elided, especially in the splendid hymns of Pentecost: Come Holy Spirit/Come Creator Spirit. We are relational human beings.
Trinity and Unity
The family image remains essential. This is expressed especially in John’s Gospel at 17:21ff. That you all may be one, as I and the Father are one. Love one another. And to make it all possible Jesus sends the Paraclete when he returns to his Father. “If you see charity, you see the Trinity”. This citation from St Augustine (De Trinitate, VIII, 8) is given by Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est , (CTS, 2006, p. 23). The pope there describes the Church’s charitable activity as a manifestation of Trinitarian love.
We have been following the biblical way of presenting the believing experience of God as Trinity. The way we relate together daily, and with others, illustrates the nature of the God we believe in. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel (28:28) Jesus said to the apostles: “…go into the whole world and teach them, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…and behold I am with you always until the close of the age.” A Happy Feast to you all.
Rev Richard J. Taylor
Spiritual Advisor, MaterCare,
Boarbank Hall, Cumbria, UK