Rector's Reflections - 21 May

Rector’s Reflections   Tuesday 21st May 2024

Come, Holy Ghost, our Souls Inspire

In yesterday’s Reflections, I shared some thoughts on the third verse of the hymn, “Come, Holy Ghost, our Souls Inspire”. In today’s Reflections, I wish to share some thoughts on the fourth and final verse. This verse reads as follows :

Teach us, to know the Father, Son,

And thee, of Both, to be but One;

That through the ages all along

This may be our endless song,

Praise to thy eternal merit,

Father, Son, and holy Spirit. Amen.

In this verse, we are encouraged to pray to the Holy Spirit for help in understanding the traditional doctrine of the Trinity. I wonder if you have ever thought of asking the Holy Spirit’s help in trying to grasp the doctrine of the Trinity?

At its simplest, the doctrine of the Trinity states that God is both One and yet also, at the same time,  a perfect community of three Persons, namely God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The doctrine comes from reflection on the nature and activity of God as it has been revealed to us through the Bible, the life and teaching of Jesus, and through the experience of the Christian community down the centuries.  Christinas have usually felt that the doctrine of the Trinity gives us the fullest understanding of who God is, and how he relates to the world. However,   I think most Christians have also felt that the doctrine is not without its difficulties. How can God be both One and Three at the same time?  How can God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit all be fully God?  

Theologians have come up with various attempts to explain the Trinity.  Some focus on God’s revelation of Himself :   this is how God has chosen to disclose His nature,  through the Bible, Jesus and the Christian experience. It is not our role to question who God is, or to challenge how He has chosen to reveal himself to us.  God is God, and He should be allowed to define His own identity. Another approach focusses on analogies to the Trinity from our everyday experiences as human beings. For example, there is only one me- I am Jason St John Nicolle. But at the same time,  I have more than one identity. I am my parent’s son. I am brother to my sisters. I am husband to my wife.   There is a sense in which Jason the son is not the same as Jason the brother or Jason the husband.  But at the same time, it is the one Jason.  So God the Father is not the same as God the Son or God the Holy Spirit, but they are all equally God.

I would add that theological explanations of the Trinity are not always helpful.  The theology of the Trinity is complex, sometimes exceptionally so.  It is very difficult to propose an explanation of the Trinity which fully avoids various beliefs which have been condemned by the Church  as heresies. There is a story that in the Middle Ages, preachers were permitted not to preach on the Trinity,  “on the account of difficulty”.  I do not know whether this story has any basis in fact, but I think it is a story which deserves to be true! It might surprise you, but I do not recall ever having heard a fully orthodox sermon on the theology of the Trinity. Many attempts to explain it end up  in fact promoting one or more the heresies which were condemned by the early Church.

I think all attempts to explain the doctrine of the Trinity have their limitations, and it is not surprising that some faithful Christians struggle with the doctrine for the whole of their life.  This can be frustrating – part of us wishes to believe in the doctrine of the Trinity with all our heart and mind and soul,  while the other part of us is wondering whether it makes any sense at all. Is it simply an unnecessary complication? 

It is reassuring to know that when we are having difficulties over the whole idea of the Trinity, we can pray to God the Holy Spirit for help. In the words of the hymn,  we can ask the Holy Spirt to “teach us to know the Father, Son, And Thee, of Both, to be but One”.   Few of us will grasp the truth of the Trinity through our own efforts. We need to be taught it, and what better teacher than the Holy Spirit Himself?


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