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June 8, 2001
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
The Proverbs texts speaks about a personified Wisdom (associated in the tradition with both Sophia and Logos, Son and Spirit), present with God at the beginning of creation. It compares with Genesis 1, where God creates through speaking a Word, and moving as Spirit over the face of the waters.
Psalm 8 is a creation psalm, exalting the God of creation and marveling at our own place in the order of creation.
Romans 5 focuses on the redemptive work of the Son, through the Spirit, to the Father. The Johannine text speaks specifically about the Spirit witnessing to the works of Jesus as being of the Father.
Historically the notion of the trinity grew out of soteriological concerns. The problem of sin is such that no human being can same her or himself, let alone any other. We are saved from sin
through Jesus Christ, therefore, Jesus Christ must be of God. The great controversy of the 3rd and 4th centuries was whether Jesus was not only of God, but truly God, or whether Jesus was the first born and greatest of all God's creative works. The tradition decided in favor of the former. How, then, is Jesus both truly human and truly God at the same time (the Christological controversy of the "two natures")? And if Jesus is truly God incarnate, how is God running the universe during the incarnation? "Trinity" becomes the answer.
Very briefly, for the first centuries, the focus is upon the way in which God is both Father (because Jesus prayed to God as Father) and Son; the Spirit was a minor theological player until late in the fourth century. Augustine is the great framer of the western notion of the Trinity, arguing that our own existence as being, as intellect, and as will is a dim reflection of a greater distinction of Being (Father), Intellect (Son), and Will (Spirit) in God. Reaching toward a more communal notion, he argued that God is Love (Father), Beloved (Son), and the Love that unites them (Spirit). God is primarily one nature and one substance, he argued, but this one nature differentiates itself in three persons, which at that time was not as individualized as our own notion of "person. " Later in the tradition the notion of "perichoretic love" was developed to suggest that the way the three are One is in and through an interpenetrating love, where each is in the other. Distinctions were made between the "Immanent Trinity," which is how God is within Godself, and the "Economic Trinity," which is how God acts in creation. Most twentieth century theologians collapsed the distinction, arguing essentially that the way God acts is the way God is, and that we have no way to speak about God beyond the actions of God.
Contemporary application: 1. If God is Triune, then God is internally communal, in an unfathomable unity of sheer love. But this is a Creator God, acting in love to bring into being a creation that can mirror divine love in its own way. Therefore, no single individual is an adequate"image" of the Trinitarian God. It takes a community, bound together by love, to reflect who God is within the confines of our human situation. Further, if the trinitarian love does not remain within itself, but is poured out for the sake of creation, then no church community dare confine its love to its own borders. It must pour itself out in loving mission to the world outside its walls. 2. To say that God is triune is to force us beyond our foolish human penchant to make God after our own image, and to pretend that God is a "very big" human being (man or woman) "in the sky" as it were. It is no better than those Disneyland balloons, where tiny little images of a mouse are filled with hot air and become big images of the same little mouse. God is such that God can become incarnate within God's own creation, but God is considerably more than any part of creation, including the human part. Not a single human being is a trinity. The"notion" of trinity helps us to keep from anthropomorphizing God, and then simply idolatrously worshiping what we consider to be an ideal image of ourselves. To take trinity seriously is to recognize the awesome mystery of the Godness of God.
Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki is Professor Emerita, Claremont School of Theology, co-director of Process Studies, and the author of several books, including Divinity and Diversity, God Christ Church, and In God's Presence. She is the director of the annual Whitehead International Film Festival, held in Mudd Theatre during Martin Luther King, Jr., weekend and also teaches a Faith & Film class during this event.