As I went to create this post, I noticed that I haven’t yet posted for Pentecost Sunday, just for the Vigil. I’ll try to get around to filling that blank within a few days, but at this point I think it’s more important to be timely with the current Sunday, so here’s something for the readings for May 22, 2016.
There are many references to God as Father throughout the scriptures, and in the New Testament Jesus, in calling God his father indicates that he is God’s son, and he speaks of the Holy Spirit whom he and the Father will send. Last Sunday, we celebrated the descent of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul speaks of living in or according to the Spirit. In short, the New Testament is clear that there is God who is Father, that Jesus is his son, and that there is a Holy Spirit. Jesus commands us to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Matthew 28:19.
Several centuries of reflection and theologizing were needed before the 4th Century Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople were able to proclaim the doctrine of the Trinity with precision. They did it in response to a priest of Alexander, Arius, who believed that Jesus was a being inferior to God the Father, a creature. The councils declared that the scripture-witnessed faith of the Church is that Jesus is of the same nature and substance as the Father. In other words, he is fully God. The Holy Spirit is likewise fully God. Over the next thousand years, the liturgical celebration of this belief gradually developed, from the writing of the Roman Missal’s preface of the Holy Trinity in the 4th Century, through the composition of a Mass, to the insertion of the Feast into the Church’s calendar in 1334. Now, each of the three years of the lectionary cycle has its own assigned readings.
Although the Old Testament gives no explicit teaching that God is a trinity of persons, there are adumbrations, as in today’s first reading — Proverbs 8:22-31. There we hear of Wisdom as a person who preexisted the creation of the world, who was present at the creation, who was God’s craftsman in creation. God delights in the presence of Wisdom. The beginning of the Gospel of John say, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” and goes on to say that “through him all things were made.” John 1:1, 3. So we can identify the Wisdom in this reading with the Word of John’s gospel. When today’s passage speaks of Wisdom as “poured forth,” we can see this as an expression given a systematic precision in the phrases of the creeds, “his only-begotten son,” and “born of the Father before all ages, … begotten, not made.” And in the conclusion, “playing before God on the surface of the earth; and I found delight in the human race,” we can be drawn to consider the ultimate expression of this in the incarnation of the Word of God: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” John 1:14.
The responsorial psalm — Ps. 8:4-9 with refrain from verse 2a — takes up the theme of creation from the first reading and then goes to the theme of the human race from the end of the reading. While humanity may seem small in the vast scale of the universe, God cares for us, and indeed exalts us over the rest of the world. Reading more carefully, we notice the phrase, “the son of man.” while this may have been a generic term in the mind of the psalmist, we are led to think of the Son of Man, the incarnate Word of God, the Wisdom of God, who has been exalted at the right hand of the Father as Lord of creation.
The second reading — Romans 5:1-5 — gives us one of the instances in which Paul makes reference to God (the Father) Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Paul doesn’t present the precise theology of Nicaea and Constantinople — he’s not writing systematic theology, he’s dictating letters — but it is through Jesus that we gain access to God by faith and through the Holy Spirit that the love of God is poured into our hearts. It is the action of these three persons that we have the strength to endure the hardships of life.
The gospel — John 16:12-15 — shows us Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in a dynamic relationship of cooperation. The Spirit is to guide the disciples to the truth they couldn’t bear at the moment Jesus was speaking to them. But he won’t be speaking a truth that is his own. He will get it from Jesus, who in turn has it from the Father. The three divine persons work with each other and share everything with each other.
The two councils whose work gave us the Nicene Creed responded to error by defining the truth about the Trinity with precision. But what they said does not fully present the reality of God. It is impossible for finite human minds to fully grasp and express the reality of the infinite God. Beyond that, we may ask what the doctrine of the Trinity means for us. Why is it important. For one thing, it tells us that God is not some impersonal force of the universe. God is relationship within himself, among the three persons not just with us. God is love within himself, among the three persons, not just toward us. God is, in his infinity, what we are to be — to the extent we can be as limited creatures. Created in his likeness, we are created for relationship, we are created for love. We are are not to be isolated, unfeeling, self-absorbed, self-sufficient. We should be in relationships of love with others who share our human nature as the persons of the Trinity are in relationship with one another in their divine nature.