by Linda McMillan
Trinity Sunday is the most dangerous Sunday of the year! How can a day be dangerous? Well, maybe it’s not the day itself. But, danger lurks there on the edges…
The Book Of Common Prayer says that Trinity Sunday celebrates “the one and equal glory” of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, “in Trinity of Persons and in Unity of Being” (BCP, p. 380). There’s nothing too dangerous about that – whether it bears any relationship to the actual nature of God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, I don’t know – but as doctrines go, there have been worse. And there’s nothing wrong with observing the formation of this really magnificent doctrine. It’s one of the seven principal feasts of the church, after all, and one of our earliest feasts. So, all’s well and good.
The creation of the doctrine of the trinity was a centuries-long struggle of people who simply didn’t agree. This doctrine, and the creeds which express it, are one of the great gifts of the early church, but even today we do not agree. Look around during the recitation of the creed this morning. Some people will speak out the filioque without missing a beat, others will go mysteriously quiet until the next phrase. Even after centuries, we do not agree. But, we want to understand. . So, it’s not surprising that Christianity came up with something – anything — to explain the nature of Jesus.
What’s so dangerous? The danger isn’t the doctrine, or observing it. There’s no danger in reading through the proceedings of the great councils, pondering the pithy sayings of Arius, or spending all summer reading through a pile of books on the subject. Like I said, we want to understand. The danger is in how very close we dance to hubris when we close the cover on the last book, sit back contentedly and say to ourselves, “Well, I’ve really got that down…” P. J. O’Rourke was right when he said that hubris is one of the great renewable resources.
I know about this particular hubris because I’ve done it. And maybe you have too. It’s OK, though. The compulsion to know this being, this incomprehensible God who comes to us in mystery and changes everything… Well, we want to understand that. We read. We study hard. That is just how we’re made. But, all the information in the world cannot explain the nature of God. It is one of the things which is beyond us.
For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.
You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high; I cannot attain to it.
So today, as you dance through the heresies and heresiticals,* have fun. Enjoy the thrill of God talk. Gaily slip and sild from one heresy right into the next one. With those who built the church in earlier times we can crash into ideas, heresies, and just plain being wrong with abandon because getting it right is not possible. There is no containing, no knowing, no understanding the real nature of our God. So, dance far away from the hubris of thinking you know something about God and enjoy floating on the sea of all the things you don’t know.
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy hubris prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
I Peter 5:8… My own translation
Linda McMillan is writing from the sands of Pattaya Beach and giving thanks for the invention of the personal hotspot. Gotta love it.
Some Notes of Possible Interest
Will Robinson was a character on the 1960’s hit TV show, “Lost In Space.” Will was the young son. The family’s robot often looked after him and would exclaim, “Danger, danger Will Robinson.”
The pithy sayings of Arius… Most famously he said of Jesus, “There was when he was not,” by which he meant that Jesus was not co-eternal with God. He also argued that Jesus was not of one substance with God by saying “he is from things that are not”, and he also said, “before he was begotten he was not.” And all that was really controversial. It’s pretty much the gunpowder that ignited the first ecumenical council. Emperor Constantine – who was baptized by an Arian bishop, btw — didn’t care which Christological view prevailed, his concern was that one should prevail and unify the empire. Some people think that Arianism was the problem. It wasn’t. In fact, there are still lots of Arians. The sky hasn’t fallen. Division in the empire was the problem. In opening the Council of Nicaea Constantine said that division in the church was worse than war. — Some people say that Arius’s sayings were actually drinking songs – he was very popular with the common people. I wish we still had theological drinking songs. It might help.
Anathema means exclusion. It used to mean death, but things blessedly moderated over the centuries.
Filioqua is a Latin word. It means, “and the son.”
Heresitical is a word I made up. It means a small heresy, or an almost heresy. And, let’s be honest, it’s the world most of us inhabit.