In the early Middle Ages, there was a movement to develop a diagram that would explain the Holy Trinity. How are the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit separate, yet also in eternal relationship with each other? The answer was a chart with a triangle, each point being labeled as one of the three Persons. In the middle was the term, “God” (or “Deus”) in Latin. Each of the side points connects to the center. The Father is God, so is the Son, and so is the Holy Spirit. But, the connection between each of the three Persons is marked with a bold, “Is Not.” The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father. In the medieval church, the diagram became known as the “Scutum Fidei,” the “Shield of Faith.” (And it did appear on the shields of fervent and pious knights!)
The big problem with such a “Shield” is that it is a static definition of what is at the heart of God, a swirling, never concluding flow of relationship anmd infinite love. Instead of encountering this dance of mystery between and among the Holy Three, we have long substituted a charted “truth” regarding the Trinity. No wonder that Catholic theologian Karl Rahner could say that “Christians are, in their practical life, almost mere ‘monotheists.’” 1
Richard Rohr put it this way: At the heart of Christian revelation, God is not seen as a distant, static monarch but…as a divine circle dance, as the early Fathers of the church dared to call it (in Greek perichoresis, the origin of our word choreography). God is the Holy One presenced in the dynamic and loving action of the Three. 2
But such a statement may be almost as dense as the more traditional; rationalistic ways the church has sought to define the Trinity. In 1411 in Russia, Rublev, the iconographer “wrote” the Icon of the Hospitality of Abraham for the Trinity Orthodox Monastery. At the center of the icon are the three strangers who appear to Abraham. Abraham’s hospitality is evident—the three sit around a table with a cup at its center. In Orthodox tradition, the three strangers are the Persons of the Holy Trinity. At the left is the Father; at center, the Son; and to the right, the Holy Spirit. And the three have faces almost exactly the same—there is a profound unity here. But each is subtly different as well. The Father, on the left, is slightly dominant, but gazes upon the other two in delight. The Son extends his hand to bless the cup—that cup of sacrifice and of sacrament. And the Spirit’s hand is nearby on the Table, ready to continue Christ’s work upon his death and glorification. Father Rohr comments, The Holy One in the form of Three—eating and drinking in infinite hospitality and utter enjoyment between themselves…the gaze between the Three; the deep respect between them as they all share from the common bowl. 3
But there is an additional mystery to the icon. Below this flow of love around the table, there is a small rectangular opening. Some art historians conclude that when Rublev “drew” the icon, he placed a mirror in the open place. So as the faithful gazed upon the Holy Three at table, the mirror brought them directly into the scene. Or, to put it differently, a further mystery was being revealed here. The community of the baptized was being “mirrored” in the love and hospitality of the Holy Three! As are we! Our life and our life together are mirrored deep within the Divine Dance of the Holy Trinity. Made in the image of God, we share in this flow of love and reciprocal hospitality that is our birthright as Christian people. We are mirrored in the Divine Three-in-One!
The Epistle Lesson for Trinity Sunday from the closing of Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians is a natural choice by virtue of its Trinitarian blessing. This blessing is one that opens the Mass on many occasions: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” But the other words of St. Paul in this lection are also important to this Trinity Sunday. They speak of the quality of life together that a community “mirrored” in the Trinity will have. Paul sets the tone for these encouragements with his opening word, “Rejoice.” The gospel is great good news and God’s people in Christ cannot
suppress their rejoicing. Practically ever hymn at the opening of Mass in some way or other is about rejoicing. Rejoicing in our baptism into the Body of Christ. Rejoicing in the gift of each other in this community. Rejoicing in “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.”
The Apostle goes on to encourage the Christians at Corinth to “mend your ways’ (an argument and appeal he has made throughout his letters to that church). Some translations of this text offer “put things in order.” But that “ordering of things” is quite different from the community-building task of “mending our ways.” Since we are mirrored upon the community and love of the Trinity itself, we will always be in need of mending our ways towards the fullness of God.
Have we divided our community by importing the divisions and anger of the current political landscape in our nation? Then we are in huge need of mending our community in Christ, renewing our baptismal vows of covenant with each other and with God. Are we won over to the world’s definitions of success and prosperity? Then we are in need of mending our self-image to be that of the Triune image of God. Do we exclude the poor and the outcast from our community, simply not seeing them as beloved of God? Then our vision needs mending until we see with the eyes of Christ.
So “mend your ways,” the Apostle Paul admonishes. We are mirrored by the hospitality and love of the Divine Three who invite us to that Table. As St. Paul comes to the end of his Second Letter to the Corinthians, he adds another
word: “Encourage one another,” “agree with one another,” and finally, “live in peace.” These encouragements are renewed at every celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Every liturgical ministry, from presenting the Gifts at the Offertory to those of musicians and lectors and Eucharistic servers, are ways in which we encourage each other and build up the Body of Christ.
The Apostle also urges us to “live in peace.” And just prior to Communion itself, we share the peace of Christ with each other, mirroring the peace and love shared by the Holy Three. Paul also directs us to “agree with each other.” We may take this to mean that we should all conform to one way of thinking about topics that have a wonderful diversity about them. But no. The Greek here is especially tough to translate into English. The root of the term is not that of a mental process that leads us towards one way of thinking. Instead, the root of the word relates to
the bodily region around the heart. Yes, there is a coming together in understanding, but more deeply, we are encouraged to be mirrored in the reflection of the Trinity. Each person at Table in the icon expressing the deepest love and care for the other. Each of us welcoming and having deep love and affection for the other. One Lord, one faith, one Body of love.
See what happens when we engage with the Trinity, not as an abstract dogma, but as the Triune Life and Love that is at the heart of the universe? We find ourselves enfolded within the Divine Dance of love and hospitality, of encouragement and peace. Sure there are lots of things to be mended as we see ourselves mirrored in the Holy Trinity. But we do know this: There is a seat at the Table for each of us and we are all invited to join in the Feast, together.
1 Karl Rahner, The Trinity, 10-11. Quoted in Rohr, The Divine Dance, 26.
2 Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance, 31.
3 Rohr, 30.
Image: Rublev Icon of the Holy Trinity