Saturday, May 21, 2005

A Fine Episcopal Homily for Trinity Sunday

I discovered a link to this at Bill Cork's excellent ut unum sint blog.

Trinity Sunday Homily by Revd. Dr. Peter Toon (all that follows is quoted, and is reproduced in its entirety):

The Church in the West was very wise, and no doubt led by then Holy Ghost, to call the Sunday after Whitsuntide, by the name of Trinity Sunday, in order that the focus of worship and devotion be most particularly on that day the Triune LORD God himself – the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, Three Persons One God, a Trinity in Unity and a Unity in Trinity.

The major festivals of the Christian Year before Trinity Sunday focus on (a) the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, his taking of our human nature and flesh as his own; (b) the sacrificial, atoning death of the Second Person for our sins and his rising again from the dead for our justification; (c) the ascending into heaven with his assumed and now glorified human nature of the Second Person to be the High Priest and King of his people; and (d) his sending, together with the Father, of the Holy Ghost to the Church in order for the Third Person of the Trinity to be the Paraclete of the Incarnate Son, a Counselor and Comforter to his sanctified people.

In the great work of divine revelation and redemption, salvation and sanctification, the Holy Trinity is wholly involved, as the Father sends the Son into the world where he assumed human nature by the presence of the Holy Ghost, and where the Holy Ghost acts in the Name of the Son. So it is most fitting and most appropriate that after the last of the great festivals -- Christmas & Epiphany, Easter, Ascension and Whitsuntide – there should be another festival pointing to the identity of the Lord our God, the God of revelation and redemption, by Whom the divine reality of the great festivals is assured.

The Early Church gave a lot of time and effort to the stating in the best possible and available terms the doctrine of the Holy, Blessed and Undivided Trinity of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Ghost. That is, the rendering of the dynamic and diverse biblical teaching and insights into clear propositional terms, using particular words in specific ways. This teaching is found in the Nicene Creed (written originally in Greek and immediately translated into Latin) and in the Athanasian Creed or Quicunque Vult (written originally in Latin and later translated into Greek).

Key words are substance (ousia in Greek) and Person (hypostasis in Greek). And the church teaching is that there is one ousia (Divinity, Godhead) and that each of the Three Persons possesses in whole this one, unique ousia. This one substance, Godhead, is not, as it were, shared and split into three. The Father is wholly God; the Son is wholly God and the Holy Ghost is wholly God. Thus the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost are homoousios (of the same, identical substance, essence & being) with each other.

The Three Persons differ from one another not in Godhead for each one is wholly God; rather they differ in terms of their relations (not relationships!) one with another. The first Person is the Father of the Only-Begotten Son; the Son is the only-begotten Son of the Father; and the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son. And, of course, in the divine work of creation, redemption, providence and judgment, each of the Three has a different but not an independent role.

It is this Mystery, God as the Holy Trinity, which Mother Church asks her members ( born from above by the Holy Ghost to be the adopted children of the Father) to adore, praise and magnify on Trinity Sunday, and to do so with special effort, concentration and devotion.

Then for the rest of the Christian Year, as each Sunday also bears the Name of the same Holy Trinity, Mother Church asks her members to hear and read the Gospel, the Epistle and the Old Testament as the words to the world and the church of the same Triune God, even as She worships the Undivided and Blessed Trinity, bowing before the Father in the Name of the Son and with the presence and illumination of the Holy Ghost.

Christians will probably begin to get their terminology concerning the Holy Trinity correct when their own worship, devotion and service is truly Trinitarian. When they worship the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ with the Holy Ghost, and as they offer their daily lives in the Spirit, and for the sake of the Lord Jesus, to the Father to glorify his name. It is only when we know God as the Triune Lord God experientially and mentally that we are aware of the need for careful terminology both to preserve sound doctrine and to honor God for who He is and what He has revealed unto us.

One common heresy uttered by people whose devotion is not truly Trinitarian is to treat God as One God who is One Person, which is Unitarianism. However, this is often given a kind of seemingly Trinitarian character by giving to this divine Person three primary Names (Father, Son and Holy Ghost). In this form the heresy is Modalism or Sabellianism, where the One Person of God is said to reveal himself in Three Modes of Being.

Amongst more liberal Christians, the most common heresy is to present the Trinity as if it were One Divine Community wherein there is perfect Diversity, and then to see human community (and even amongst Anglican to see the Anglican Communion of Churches!) in its unity and diversity called to reflect the divine model. This is an extreme form of the doctrine of the “social Trinity” and seems to be very popular in various forms in western churches as people aim to create community locally with “peace and justice” out of diverse human individual beings.

The traditional, orthodox, dogma of the Holy Trinity, upon which all orthodox Christian doctrine and practice is based and must harmonize, is well expressed in The Book of Common Prayer (1662, 1962 Canada and 1928 USA). Here for Trinity Sunday the Collect is unique in its address, for it is offered on this day and during the week following, to the Trinity as Trinity and as One God (not as usual to the Father through the Son and with the Spirit).

Almighty and everlasting God, who hast given unto us thy servants grace, by the confession of the true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the divine Majesty to worship the Unity: We beseech thee, that thou wouldest keep us stedfast in this faith, and evermore defend us from all adversities, who livest and reignest, one God, world without end. Amen.

And let us add:

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost ; As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end . Amen.

Blessed be the kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost; now and always, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

The Revd Dr Peter Toon May 2005