The Holy Trinity, May 26th 2013: André Rublëv’s Icon of the Holy Trinity
The Holy Trinity, May 26th 2013
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 Psalm 8 Romans 5:1-5 John 16: 12-15
The Holy Trinity
I disagreed with the first statement on the commentary this time: that this Sunday is devoted to a church doctrine, that of the Trinity. I believe that the Holy Trinity is a reality or better yet, the source of all realities. “In God we live, move, and have our being.” And I have come to this belief not in the sense that it is a doctrine that true Christians have to believe and only unorthodox ones do not. When we use power to enforce beliefs, we no longer have our Christian freedom. That gets into using force, which belongs to the state, but not the church. So I want only to convince you of the truth of the Trinity.
Remember that in, with, and under my words you receive the Word of God, you can hear your God speaking to you. You have to have a critical mind. Always ask, “Is it really so?”
My father used to berate and deride free thinkers. He of course was reacting to those who were anti-church, atheistic, and wanting to believe nothing without evidence. But we need freedom. We need to have the freedom to think for ourselves while reading our bibles, while exploring our Christian faith, and considering our experience while following Christ – and in having such freedom to think, the Holy Spirit will guide us into the truth. The Holy Spirit will come into our hearts and lead you and me on the path of truth.
Friedrich Schleiermacher, (1786-1834) one of the great 19th century theologians who rewrote theology for the church to make it respond to the criticism of the Enlightenment, wrote his whole book and forgot about the Trinity. He merely tagged about twenty pages about it at the end of his massive book of theology as an afterthought. Meanwhile George Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel (1770-1831) as a philosopher taught that all realities emerged out of the Trinity, evolved in a threefold way (his dialectic of a thesis, antithesis, and synthesis) throughout the whole creation and finished their course issuing back into the Trinity. But he wanted to replace the church with the state! Can you imagine that! The church thinker had no use for the Trinity, while a thinker for the state made it the center of his philosophy! But no state can claim to be the realm of peace ruled by our Lord Jesus Christ and all states will be judged God’s heavenly of kingdom.
We speak about the Holy Trinity because we believe that the Word of God; that means the Son of God became a human being, Jesus Christ. People would tell Christians that they believed in more than one God. “No,” Christians said. “In Jesus Christ, the one and only God visited us and sent the Holy Spirit to remain with us and all three Persons or ways of being God are one God.”
There are many ways to explain the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. Remember how St. Patrick picked up a shamrock, we would call it a three leaf clover, and explained that it had three leaves, but it was one plant, the three leaf clover. He would have been unlucky if he had looked over a four leaf clover! But he got one with three leaves. Matter can be solid, liquid or gas, but it is still matter. Water for example can be ice, have the form of a liquid, or be water vapor. It’s steam when it’s a gas. But of course none of these explanations take away from the mystery of God. The more we know the more we know we don’t know. On the other hand, the less we know the more we think we know, but really don’t. Have you heard of the parent who had five theories about how to bring up children, but no children? Then she had five children and no theories. When we have just a little knowledge, then everything seems clear-cut and self-evident. When we begin to learn a whole lot more, we realize how many questions there are that we can’t answer, how uncertain some knowledge is, and how we would do better to listen at times than to talk and talk. There’s a German saying, “If you had kept quiet, people would still think you were a professor.” “Hättest du geschwiegen wärst du Professor geblieben.”
But foolishly, I will still try to say more about the Trinity. Dorothy Sayers is a mystery book writer, but she wrote one book about the Holy Trinity, called The Mind of the Maker. In it she compared the Trinity with authoring a book. The author’s idea for the book is the Father, the concrete book we have in our hands and read is the Son, and the idea of the book that we all receive from it is the Holy Spirit, but it is one book. Her way of thinking about the Trinity comes from St. Augustine, but of course, the eternal Three-in-One and the majestic One-in Three of the ever-living God remains a mystery. No explanation can take the mystery away, because God is beyond number, living not in time but eternity, which is incomprehensible to us.
Psalm 8 puts our awe and wonder into words: when we look at the heavens, this incredible universe with it galaxies full of stars swirling around black holes, with even the galaxies too numerous to number, who are we that God should be mindful of us or care about us?
But that is precisely what the Good News is about. That One, the source of all that is, whose wisdom created something where there was nothing, who has such a glorious name above anything to be imagined on earth – that God loves us and sent the Word, the Logos, God’s only Son to come to earth to become a Human being, Jesus Christ, to show us the way of salvation.
I always love to present the Holy Trinity with the icon drawn by André Rublëv who lived from about 1360 or 70 to 1430. We do not so much look at icons, the Orthodox say, as much as the icons look at us. Rublëv depicts the Trinity with the three angels that visited Abraham when he sat under the oaks of Mamre. The three men or angels promised him and Sarah the son of promise. (Genesis 18) Sarah did give birth to Isaac then in her old age, but for the real son of promise humanity had to wait for Jesus.
Note: if you would like to see Rublëv’s icon on Trinity for the link.
For a detail study click on Trinity in Detail for the link.
Rublëv’s whole painting is based on three circles, because circles have no beginning and no end. The bodies of the angels or Persons form the largest circle to depict their unity; the outward rim of the chalice forms the second circle; and the wine, forms the third. The Father is on the left under the house has many mansions, while the Son is in the middle under the branch of Jesse, while the Holy Spirit is either under a mountain bent to be circular, or a wave or perhaps a tongue. Perhaps the stem of Jesse could also double for Jesus as the Tree of Life. Each angel has a circular halo and each a reed for a scepter and each have golden wings. The Son has the human color of the earth and the divine blue of heaven; the Father has transparent yellow or green over blue for heaven; and the Holy Spirit on the right has blue for heaven and translucent green for growth. Notice the light yellow color for heaven and the way the Holy Spirit forms a blessing with his fingers to the earth, all in green below. There are three Persons, triangles, three rectangles, three halos, scepters, and sets of wings. The wine is in the chalice, while I think the feet s in the foreground look like bread and perhaps even the hairdos. Even though the Son is behind the table, all three Persons are on the one plane. As one God all three persons are really identical as well and they don’t prescribe a gender.
The Father is bidding the Son to be the sacrifice and go down and save us. The Father does this with infinite grief on His face, and the Son is accepting this mission, while the Father and the Son shape their fingers into the blessing (two fingers straight and three bent) of the loving communion that will require the blood of Christ to fill the chalice. The three circles bring the whole focus to the blood in the chalice. Rublëv was painting the verse John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The heart of this icon puts the whole Gospel into a nutshell. The Father sends his Son to be Our Redeemer, to purchase us not with silver and gold, that is, money; but with his own precious blood so that we now belong to God. So we no longer live or die to ourselves; but if we die we die to the Lord and if we live we live to the Lord; so then whether we live or whether we die, we [now] belong to the Lord. (Rom 14:7-8)
We could also still bring up the way the Three Persons almost dance for joy to shoulder and bear each other’s burdens. We could talk about perichoresis. We could also bring up the immanent Trinity and the economic Trinity, (I once wrote a 200 page unpublished book on the Trinity.), but in the words of the Gospel: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.” Amen.