You have asked me to talk about the Holy Trinity, and with particular reference to the Holy Spirit.
One of the confessions of the Christian faith which we have preserved in the Church of England, but which isn't often used now, is the creed which says:
And the Catholic Faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinty in Unity, neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance.
I want to come back to that, because what sounds at first sight rather
cerebral, rather baffling, is in fact a very precious glimpse and vision
of the nature of the Christian God.
Let me try and explain what I mean by the Trinity as a way of BEING. I have come to realise also that being alive in the Holy Trinity is a life that you can't attain by an exercise of intellect or the will, but you can recognise this life of the Holy Trinity in our everyday circumstances and our worship. You can recognise the Trinity, you can contemplate, you can enter into the experience of God as Trinity by watchfulness and awareness, and when you enter the Holy Trinity this is the place where you experience enlightenment, but this enlightenment is not achieved, it is the gift of the Holy Trinity.
Now these things are not, any longer, theories as far as I am concerned,
they correspond to realities too deep for words.
So, the mystery of God. I don't mean to take refuge in that discreditable parsonical trick, when you are confronted with a very difficult question. When somebody asks you a question about God and you say : "It's a mystery, old boy". That is not what I mean at all. The mystery of the Holy Trinity is not a mystery of the puzzle kind, which given more information or a greater endowment than I have got of M Hercule Poirot's little grey cells, we might at some point be in a position to work out. When you recognise the presence of God you encounter mystery for this reason: you discover that you are IN God. You discover that your mind is to small to comprehend God, and that we are dazzled by the light of the beyond all. The mystery is literally unfathomable because it embraces all of us. You can't get round to examine it from any other angle, because you are within the mystery.
Who could fail to see, in the cult of Hercules (which has come back by the way, not only as a strip cartoon but in the person of Sylvester Stallone and many other people) the wish-fulfilment of pimply adolescent boys, a typical kind of ego projection with which you have a flirtation. These Gods do not exist, though the energies which are invested in them can sometimes lead to the kind of psychic phenomena which are not unknown where there are adolescent children and quantities of sexual energy in circulation. Psalm 115 says "wherefore shall the Heathen say, where is now their God". The Pagans were jeering, you see, they were saying, "You haven't got an image of your God, where's your God, what does he look like?" The answer for the Psalmist is: "Our God is in Heaven, He hath done whatsoever pleased him." No ego-projection of ours - here is the realm of radical and infinite possibility. "Their idols are silver and gold, even the work of men's hands." The true and living God has radical freedom, he is not our handiwork we are His people and the sheep of His pasture, and alone of all the great temples of the ancient world, the Temple of Jerusalem did not preserve a cult statue, or an object, in its Holy of Holies.
So we are dealing with the recognition of a way of being, an encounter with a presence, not with a difficult idea that we have somehow to domesticate in our sermons. The revelation of God's Trinity has unfolded and continues to unfold in history. Pentecost, when they were all together in one place, and there was the gift from on high of the Holy Spirit to the Church, it was a beginning, causing to spring up a river of life and energy, which sometimes has flown underground, as largely it does now, the river is at the moment the flowing mostly under ground, sometimes it flows on the surface, until we believe at the last day we believe we shall be caught up in a universal en-goded-ness, a transfiguration, a universal participation in the life of the Holy Trinity.
St Gregory Nazianzen describes this progressive revelation in this way: "The Old Testament has manifested the Father clearly, the Son only dimly. The New Testament has revealed the Son, and implied the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Today the holy Spirit lives among us, and makes himself more clearly known."
And then again the Baptism, there is the descent of the Dove, the voice, again we see the way of being of God, we see that way as God in Trinity.
And then the transfiguration, when our Lord is radiant on the mountain, there is cloud, always associated by the Holy Fathers with the work of the Spirit, and there is the voice of the Father, here is my beloved son, again the expression of the presence of God.
So that is why, when we, who are followers of Jesus Christ, are told, at the end of St Matthew's Gospel, to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations, we are told that people are to be led into a participation in the life of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The task then, and still, is to immerse all in the life of the Holy Trinity, and this is the task which is still unfolding.
Now in John 14 also, Jesus says, "I will pray the Father, and he will give you another comforter, that He may be with you for ever, even the spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive for it beholdeth him not". You see the precision of the Holy Scriptures and the writing of St John. This is the right language. We are not talking about theoretical understanding, we are talking about that capacity to encounter presence and to perceive being.
The world cannot behold him, neither knows him. You know him, for he abideth with you and shall be in you. And so we come to dwell on the Spirit who is God in us.
I saw somebody recovering from drug addiction, in a residential hostel, he'd been there for 4 months, it is place of prayer, a place where the reality of the Spirit was there, and he said "I came in here thinking nothing of myself, but the way in which other people have listened to me, not been soft with me, but the way in which they have listened, and really paid attention to me, I now feel full up, and stronger." It is the spirit that created the healing.
In this 20th Century of ours, there has been a great divide: there have been many terrible wars between two opposing visions of human beings. One vision says this: the important thing is to be an individual. It is to individuals that rights belong. Individuals are empires in themselves. They are autonomous, they are independent. It is the Individual that must be at the centre.
And on the other hand, there has been another move in this Century which has said, it is the collective, the Individual has by themselves no meaning at all. This was the great heart of the social engineering project which was Nazism and Stalinism, which were remarkably like one another of course because they were fed from similar philosophical sources. No, the great thing is the Collective, and you must sink your individual identity in the service of this great collective.
The Trinitarian way, is neither of those things, a way of being in Trinity.
Let's go back to our Creed: "Neither confounding the persons" so everybody
is unique, is differentiated. There is differentiating at the very heart
of God. Everyone is absolutely unique and precious. But - "Neither confounding
the persons nor dividing the substance". We only come to our full stature,
to our full spiritual beauty, to the Glory that God intends for us, to
the extent to which the one can commit themselves to the other. "Neither
confounding the persons nor dividing the substance" This is a different
way of BEING, and living - do you see that? Here is this great conflict:
either it is the individual and his rights or there is the collective,
and there is the Trinitarian way: "Neither confounding the persons nor
dividing the substance".
And then, there is God who is though all - the incarnate son Jesus Christ is God with us, Emanuel. We are to give shape and depth to our lives by our relations with Christ in one another. This is the second aspect of our Trinitarian being, as human beings. We are to relate to the Beyond All, we are to see Christ in one another, we are to relate to one another. Our spiritual life is in our relations with one another, not in our cultivation of ever more exquisite, narcissistic, interior states.
And then lastly St Paul says God who is in all, the Sprit as Jesus said in John 14, the Sprit is God in us, and to know that wellspring within us, but spiritual discipline, by attention to the holy scriptures, by watchfulness and awareness, is to know inexhaustible vitality and delight, and to have access to a network of communication and communion which reverberates through the Godhead. We are engodded, we are within God, but because God is Trinity and relatedness, we are not crushed, we are not absorbed, like a drop in the cosmic ocean, we live, we breathe, we grow and are transfigured IN God.
Now this vision of God, this understanding of God's way of being, and
His presence, is called by the Holy Fathers the preichorses, the
dynamic dance of the Holy Trinity, and this language of course is very
useful. I mean one of the difficulties when you are trying to teach the
Christian Faith is that people are still hung up, believe it or not, with
the idea of God as an old man with a white beard, or some other gender-related
vision. The language about the Holy Trinity of course does bring us into
a vision of God's presence and activity into one which transcends all the
recent arguments about gender of the Godhead.
So here we have a painting by the Russian painter Rublev, painted at a time of terrible chaos in Russia, Tartar attacks, civil disturbance. This is a painting derived from Scripture, itís derived from the story of the visit of the three angels to Abraham and Sarah, and its called the Old Testament Trinity. Itís a glimpse, a vision, of God's way of being as Trinity, and you see the dance expressed in the tender regard, the attention, that the one casts on the other, in the lines of the clothes, and in the fact that if you put the centre of the compass in the centre of the table you could draw a circle, a perfect circle, which includes all those beings.
Now this figure (on the right) is identified with the Holy Spirit, the green and blue, the blue the common colour of these three characters, the blue of baptism and waters, the birth of the soul's journey, and again the Spirit's tender regard is cast on this figure, at the other extreme of the table on which the chalice rests.
The next figure is the figure of the incarnate son, with the imperial purple. He also casts a look of tender regard on this much more shadowy figure, the primordial Father, the principle of the godhead. And so it is an extraordinary vision of God's way of being, as dynamic, as a dance, "I am in the Father and the Father in me" overcoming duality, divorce, division, one in the other.
And there is a gap, this gap here, which has a rather crudely painted
oblong here, there is virtually no other right angle in this icon, that
gap of course is the invitation to us. The meaning of Christian life is
not to think complicated and exquisite thoughts about God, it is quite
simply to participate in the life of God, in His way of being as Holy Trinity,
and that gap there is the invitation to us, through the Holy Eucharist,
through our life in the Christian Body, through us coming to live as Trinitarian
persons, related to the Beyond All, related to the incarnate son in our
neighbours, relating to the Spirit which Jesus Christ says is within us,
we grow as Trinitarian beings, and that empty gap is our invitation, The
meaning of being a Christian is more and more to come to participate in
the very being of God as Holy Trinity.
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