Had you lived in Jesus’ day and asked him if he was the second person of the Blessed Trinity, I think he would not have understood the question, much less been able to make answer. The concept of the Trinity – three persons in one God – took shape some 400 years after his death and resurrection.
But what are we to say then about the rather clear reference to Trinity that Jesus himself seems to be making in these words that are attributed to him, “…baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit?” Father Joseph Nolan, liturgical scholar from Boston College in Massachusetts (and an old friend and colleague of mine, by the way), writes:
“…this is not a transcript of Jesus’ words …, but a reflection of the early church, baptizing and teaching in his name. The words reflect the belief that God… is never far from us or from our history.”
What appears to have happened is that the early Christians were gradually coming to terms with the elements that would eventually develop into our familiar doctrine of the Trinity. What does it mean?
One way to look at it is this: God is not simply one in the sense of being alone and without relationship or conversation or sharing or love. Virtually all cultures have imagined the Creator to be powerful, distant, jealous, unpredictable, competitive, etc. Jesus, on the contrary, speaks of God as compassionate, loving, forgiving, gentle, and as best characterized by the term “Abba,” which is translated as “Daddy.” The conclusion his followers came to was that the very nature and essence of God are loving relationship.
Another dear friend of mine, Australian theologian and author Michael Morwood says that when we die, we die into the love that is God.
In those first four centuries of Christian theological development, the church began to teach that the love between the Father and the Son is so intense that it overflows into yet another person, a third person, the Holy Spirit, and continues to overflow into the creation of the vast universe of which we are a part. The reasoning was that this is the nature of all love, human and divine: it yearns to share, to give & receive, to create beyond itself. And thus came about the notion of the Trinity.
Consider this pregnant statement from a man who is both a priest and a scientist. His name is Father Denis Edwards; he is the author of The God of Evolution: A Trinitarian Theology –
“The God of trinitarian theology is a God of mutual and equal relations. When such a God creates a universe, it is not surprising that it turns out to be a radically relational and interdependent one. When life unfolds through the process of evolution, it emerges in patterns of interconnectedness and interdependence that ‘fit’ with the way God is.”
Scientists are increasingly heard these days celebrating the fact that the entire universe is relational in nature at its core, each tiniest part and particle connected interdependently with all other parts, down to and beyond even microscopic bacteria.
To be responsible creatures of our Trinitarian God, we must put the relationships in our lives above all else. “Trinity” is a fundamental statement about the Creator and about us. We are the expression of God’s overflowing, eternal, intense love.
We mustn’t allow Trinity to be a ho-hum theological proposition or to be trivialized with demonstrations involving three-leaf clovers or three candle flames blended into one. It must be allowed, instead, to challenge and direct us to be what we are created to be: persons who relate in a life-giving, mutually supportive way to the planet, to the entire universe, to all other persons without discrimination of any kind, and to our very own selves, because we are among the fantastic results of God’s labor of love.