In their popular college text "Christian
Foundations," husband-and-wife team Kathleen Fischer and Thomas Hart
set aside lots of space for the Trinity.
They begin by going back to Rev. Karl Rahner's
difficulty with the English word "person." The late theologian was
convinced it originally didn't describe "an independent center of
consciousness and freedom."
He suggested "'a way of being' as a better
translation....The one God has three ways of being."
Experience of God
Father Rahner always contended that
"Trinitarian thinking began not as a piece of speculation about God,
but as the expression of the religious experiences of the followers of
Jesus: "They experienced God in an incarnate or historically concrete
way in Jesus, and they experienced God in a spiritual way in the depth of
their own spirit. They called the first experience the 'Son' and the other
the 'Holy Spirit.' The mystery that remains ever in the background, the
mystery to which Son and Spirit pointed, they called the 'Father,' as Jesus
Fischer and Hart zero in on the real meaning of
Sunday's feast of the Trinity. When we hear the dogma of "three persons
in one God," we forget that God didn't appear to the participants of
the Council of Nicaea in the fourth century and proclaim this precise
That concept had been fermenting in the
consciousness of Christians for almost 300 years. They hadn't read those
words in a catechism and repeated them on the council floor. They simply had
experienced God working in their lives on those three different levels.
We who are biblically oriented know this
experience of the divine was highlighted during Moses' encounter with Yahweh
on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 34:4-6,8-9): "Having come down in a cloud, Yahweh
stood there with him and proclaimed His name, 'Yahweh.' Thus Yahweh passed
before him and cried out, 'Yahweh, Yahweh, a merciful and gracious God, slow
to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.'"
The Chosen People discovered Yahweh's
personality only by overcoming their own "stiff-necked"
personalities long enough to permit this gracious God to be part of their
Jesus' earliest disciples also struggled to
express their "Yahweh experiences." But, no matter how they
reflected on God, they always returned to their relationship with Jesus; His
love of them demonstrated God's love of them.
It makes perfect sense for Jesus to inform
Nicodemus in the Gospel (John 3:16-18): "Yes, God so loved the word
that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him may not die but may
have eternal life."
Fischer and Hart also refer to American
theologian Catherine Moury LaCunga's insight into the Trinity: "The
doctrine of the Trinitarian persons tells us that God's being is by nature
relational....The image of God in humanity is therefore not found in the
solitary self, but in persons who are in authentic communion with others.
The Trinity serves as a model for human relationships."
It's no accident that Paul mentions Jesus, God
and the Holy Spirit in the second reading (II Corinthians 13:11-13). He's
concerned that members of the community relate to one another:
"Encourage one another. Live in harmony and peace, and the God of love
and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss....The grace
of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the
Holy Spirit be with you all."
It makes sense why Paul mentions God's three
ways of being in the context of community relations. Only those who give
themselves over to others will understand God's giving of God's self to us.
The rest might have to invest in a catechism
and start memorizing theological formulas.