Joseph Wiesenfarth’s Homily from Trinity Sunday, May 22, 2016

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Joseph Wiesenfarth

Trinity Sunday, 22 May 2016

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15


“Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?”  The answer to these two questions in the first sentence in today’s readings is:  Yes! because we are dealing with the confounding mystery of the Holy Trinity that has exercised and exacerbated theological speculation since the 2nd century when Theophilus of Antioch tried to make sense of it to himself and his bewildered contemporaries.

More recently Hans Kung told the story of a Bavarian parish priest who when called upon to preach on Trinity Sunday “announced to his congregation that . . . this was so great a mystery of which he understood nothing, there would unfortunately be no sermon” today (Does God Exist, 699).  The only thing we might disagree with here is the use of the word “unfortunately.”  To emulate that priest I must in all honesty say that this is so great a mystery that I also know no way to elucidate it.  I’ve read Gregory of Naziansus, the Nicene Creed, Northrop Frye, Hans Kung, Karen Armstrong, and Google’s numberless expositors of the mystery.  What I’ve come up with is this general agreement:


In the Trinitarian view, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit share one essence, substance or being.  The central and crucial affirmation of Christian faith is that there is one savior, God, and one salvation manifest in Jesus Christ, to which there is access only because of the Holy Spirit.


Armstrong tells us that Saint Augustine wrestled to understand this truth of Christian faith into his old age so that finally when he “looked into the depths of his mind, he saw that it was modeled on the Trinity, the archetype of all being . . . .  As in God, the three different faculties—memory, understanding, and love—constitute ‘one life, one mind, and one essence’ within ourselves” (The Case for God, 121).  There are other analogies, too, like sky, sun, and air as equal but different parts of a day (Frye, The Great Code, 156).  In his On Being a Christian, Hans Kung finds that “Traditional formulas of the doctrine of the Trinity, defined in Hellenistic terms, however helpful they may have been, cannot be imposed as a timeless obligation of faith on all believers at all times.”  And he concludes that the basic thing to understand is that “The New Testament itself forces us to reflect on the co-ordination of God, Jesus . . . and Spirit and at the same time to bring out their true diversity and undivided unity.  It is here that the legitimate basic intention of the traditional doctrine of the Trinity lies” (476-77).  And there, my friends, with Kung, I leave doctrinal matters lie.

But I allow myself some personal musings on the matter of the Trinity by looking again at the scriptures for today’s liturgy.  The Book of Proverbs is attributed to Solomon, whose wisdom is proverbial.  Wisdom comes to him from God and is as old as creation itself “when the foundations of the earth were marked out, then I [Wisdom ] was beside God, like a skilled worker; and I was daily God’s delight, rejoicing before God always, rejoicing in the inhabited world and delighting in the human race.”  Since this is the case, obviously what Wisdom says should guide the way we relate to God.  And in the Book of Proverbs, both before and after today’s reading from chapter 8, the wisdom of God is explicitly stated in every instance we can readily think of.  Whereas Moses got the Ten Commandments from God, Solomon got Wisdom to instruct us all on how to live those commandments.  “Take my instruction instead of silver and knowledge rather than choice gold: for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.”  God’s gift to us through Solomon, then, is wisdom itself.

Paul sees that wisdom as ours in our accepting Jesus as Messiah through whom grace has come to us.  And that grace allows us to boast even in our sufferings because “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.”  This is Paul’s take on God’s wisdom, which doesn’t require a psychologist for us to grasp its simple human truth.  Moreover Paul sees this truth coming to us “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”   Here, then, in these five verses of his letter to the Romans Paul brings together the three persons of the Trinity as organizing hope in every aspect of our lives.

In even fewer words, John’s gospel has Jesus speak of the “Spirit of truth” who will come to his disciples and show them that “what is mine” is equal to what is God’s and the Spirit’s too.  Indeed, if we return to the thirty-one lengthy sections of the Book of Proverbs and to its hundreds of counsels, warnings, and prohibitions, we find them all reduced to the Law as Jesus understood it, saying:


“What you would have others do to you, do to them.  That is the Law and the prophets” (Mt. 7.12).  “You shall love the Lord your God with your entire heart, your entire soul, your entire mind—that is the greatest and the first commandment.  The second is its like:  You will love your neighbor as yourself.  From those two commands is the entirety of the Law derived” (Mt. 22:37-40; Garry Wills’ translation in What Paul Meant, 54).


We can all say Amen to that because it shows that our most profound understanding of the Trinity is not in our thoughts but in our actions:  not in what we think, but in what we do.  Thus before we say our Amen today, as we do every Sunday in the liturgy, we affirm the Trinity in the doxology that precedes it, beginning with Jesus when we say:  “Through Christ, with Christ, and in Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor are yours Almighty God for ever and ever.”


Nothing more need be said . . . except . . . Amen.





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