June 16, 2019
THE SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY
Wisdom at creation
The work of your hands
God, Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit
When he comes, the Spirit of truth
At the end of the special seasons, after Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter time, we return to ordinary time. This happens in the readings for daily Mass, but in the Sunday schedule, we have a few more matters to attend to before we conclude. Today, Trinity Sunday provides a closing prayer to the special seasons — “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.”
It is not uncommon for even sympathetic worshipers to find this feast a difficult one. Here are a few thoughts. Beginning with the Scripture texts for today, we begin with the figure of Wisdom, depicted as a woman, present at creation. This image recurs in the Bible, especially in Proverbs 8, Sirach 24, Job 28 and Wisdom 7. In Proverbs 31, the figure of the Good Wife is a variant on these passages.
Sharon Ringe, in her book, “Wisdom’s Friends,” notes that wisdom was humanized as a woman, “giving personality to an abstract concept.” The fact that the Hebrew word, as well as the Greek, for “wisdom” was grammatically feminine contributed, along with the need to respond to the goddesses of Israel’s neighbors. In general, Wisdom is present at the creation of the world.
The passage from Romans 5 shows Paul mentioning all three persons — God, Jesus and Holy Spirit. This is typical of the way Paul speaks of them. His interest is in the different ways that God relates to us in the human family.
Similarly, John shows Jesus at the Supper, speaking to his disciples about his imminent departure. He will return to the Father, and they will send the “Spirit of truth” to the community for guidance. The Holy Spirit is the life of the community.
Classical Trinitarian theology, as developed in the fourth century, addresses the inner life of the Trinity in God. This is usually called the “immanent” life of the Trinity. On the other hand, the “economic” Trinity concerns what God does. This refers to his revelation and relationship to the human community. It is this latter that the New Testament presents in its Trinitarian references. God relates to us in different ways, and this is seen in the references to Father, Son and Spirit.
The first person, whom Paul simply calls “God,” is God as creator, and ground of being. Today’s readings speak of Wisdom as assisting in this. The place of creation is at issue today, seen in particular with ecological threats to the integrity of the planet, as Pope Francis alerted us to in his first encyclical, “Laudato Si’”, devoted to the environment. Issues include our role as stewards of creation, in addition to the sheer acceptance of the world as created, as a gift given.
The second person, incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, but risen in glory, represents a primary concern of the Old Testament as well as the New — God’s involvement in history, or, to put it more directly, in the human activity we call politics, since yesterday’s politics is today’s history. In the Old Testament, God is intimately involved in history, guiding his people through the difficulties of their times. Likewise, in the New Testament, Jesus is shown alleviating troubles, and finally confronting the authorities seen to be responsible for the trauma. He is executed as a political prisoner.
The third person, the Holy Spirit, is sent by Jesus and the Father to be the life and guide of the community of faith. The Spirit gives life, and sustains life. The Spirit is the ongoing guide to the faithful. The Spirit is the breath of the believing community.
For reflection: This neat schema does not exhaust the roles of the Trinity in the New Testament. You may notice other ways God relates as Trinity.
Father Beck is professor emeritus of religious studies at Loras College, Dubuque.