“Holy, holy, holy,
the Lord God the Almighty,
who was and is and is to come.”
from the Revelation to St. John the Divine.
You may recognize those words. You hear them every Sunday. In fact, we sing them every Sunday, or at least a variation of it. We sometimes use the Latin word, “Sanctus” to describe that phrase. It is inserted in our service during the Eucharistic prayer, where we thank the Father for the body and blood of our Lord Jesus. The word Holy occurs 611 times in the NIV bible. That’s almost twice the number of times the word Love occurs. It must be pretty important.
When the word Holy is used three times in the bible, and in our service, it suggests the Trinity, and since this is Trinity Sunday, a principal feast in our church, it is an important day. Thomas Becket was consecrated as the Archbishop of Canterbury on this day in the year 1162, and he ordained this day to forever be a feast to honor the Trinity.
What do we mean by the word Trinity? First, that word does not occur in Holy Scripture. It is a doctrine that was developed by the early Church Fathers. The first recorded use of the Greek word for Trinity was by Theophilus of Antioch, a friend of St. Luke, in about 170 AD. A Latin theologian by the name of Tertullian, in the early 3rd century, was the first to use the Latin words for Trinity, Person, and Substance to explain that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are “one in essence – not one in Person.”
After a series of heresies, the bishops of the church gathered in Nicaea in 325 AD to settle the matter. From that meeting we have what we know as the Nicene Creed, and its very important statement that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit are of one substance. The council declared that the Son is true God, co-eternal with the Father, and begotten, not made, of the same substance. The Creed is not only our statement of faith, but it is a test of our beliefs. As you know, during a baptism, the priest says, “Do you believe?” and you say, “We believe.”
In the back of our prayer book is another creed that was attributed to a bishop who attended that council in Nicaea. He is regarded as the Father of Orthodoxy by the Eastern Church. It was Athanasius who suggested the concept of each of the persons of the Trinity were of the same substance. He also developed the doctrine of the divinity and personality of the Holy Spirit in the last decades of his life.
There is some disagreement on the authorship of the creed, and some think it was written much later in the late 5th or early 6th century, and was attributed to Athanasius. It certainly contains the concepts he put forth, and adds this statement, “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith.” I recommend that you read it through at your convenience. It will either clear up all your questions about the Trinity, or it will completely confuse you.
Several of the Church Fathers continued this work and developed the doctrine to essentially what we have today.
Gregory of Nazianzus would say of the Trinity, “No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the splendour of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish Three than I am carried back into the One. When I think of any of the Three, I think of him as the whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of that One so as to attribute a greater greatness to the rest. When I contemplate the Three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the undivided light.”
As for what we teach in the catholic faith, it is simply that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God, or as the hymn we just sang says, God in three Persons, blessed Trinity. And all of this can be found in Scripture. In St. John chapter 10, verse 30, Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” In chapter 8, verse Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” Here, Jesus uses God’s sacred Name given to Moses at the burning bush, ‘I am’ which in Hebrew is Yahweh.
Perhaps the most well known is the from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, chapter 28:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
This is perhaps the most important reference to the Trinity, because it contains the Great Commission. These are the marching orders of every Christian. What are we doing to fulfill these orders? Are we making disciples? Are we inviting others into our fellowship? When we do, we bring joy to the Father, through the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.