Trinity Sunday (26 May 2013)

The Feast of the Most Holy Trinity has been observed in the Western (Latin) Church only since the edict of Pope John XXII early in the 14C. The Eastern Churches have no equivalent festival, although the propers adopted for Trinity Sunday are derived from prayers celebrating the Trinity and originating in the Arian controversies of the 4C.

The absence of ancient and universal observance has not prevented this festival from acquiring special significance for many Christians, and especially those living in places where a majority Muslim presence makes this doctrine one of the key markers of Christian identity.

Since the edict of John XXII, Western Christians have observed the Sunday after Pentecost as a time to pause and reflect on the Christian understanding of God. It can be helpful to imagine Advent through Pentecost as a mathematical problem, with Trinity Sunday as the solution. If we affirm all these things about Jesus, how is our idea of God changed?

It is well-known that the doctrine of the Trinity does not appear in the Scriptures, and that it has been contested from time to time by various Christian thinkers. The definitive formulations of the Trinity are found in the creeds agreed upon at the First Council of Nicea (in 325 CE) and the Council of Constantinople (in 381 CE). Those statements were composed to combat specific opposing opinions and naturally drew upon the linguistic and philosophical resources available to Greek-speaking Christian communities at the time.

The intention of the creeds was to affirm the following core beliefs:

  • the essential unity of God
  • the complete humanity and essential divinity of Jesus
  • the essential divinity of the Spirit

The immediate political need for the church to resolve conflict between opposing views, and to contribute to the social cohesion of the late Roman Empire, was also a powerful influence on the process and its outcomes.

While the doctrine of the Trinity is not presented in the Bible, the Scriptures played an important role in the debates over how best to express Christian belief in God. Those fashioning the creeds were especially seeking a way to affirm the significance of Jesus without jettisoning traditional monotheism, and they drew on the biblical texts for insights into the puzzle.

For selections of the principal biblical texts see:

For each year’s feast of the Holy Trinity, the lectionaries draw on a variety of texts that use trinitarian language. As such, these passages provide summaries of the raw material behind the formal doctrine. If—as these texts do—we speak of God as Father, of Jesus/Christ as the Son, and of the Spirit as the “go-between God” (to use John Taylor’s term) what kind of God concept are we affirming?

Crossan on Trinitarian Structures in Religion

In the epilogue to Who Killed Jesus? (1995:215), John Dominic Crossan reflects on the trinitarian “structures” he perceives in all religions:

All religions that I have ever known or can ever imagine are trinitarian in structure. And I use this term very deliberately for this is how I understand the Christian Trinity. There is, first of all, that ultimate referent known in supreme metaphors as power, person, state, or order, as nature, goddess or god, nirvana, or way. There is, next, some material manifestation, some person, place, or thing, some individual or collectivity, some cave or shrine, or temple, some clearing in the forest or tree in the desert where that ultimate referent is met and experienced. There is, finally, at least one faithful believer to begin with and eventually more to end with. But since there are always non-believers as well, some prior affinity must exist, as it were, between believer, referent, and manifestation. The spirit of referent and manifestation must already be present to the believer else why does one accept belief and another refuse it. There is always, in other words, a trintarian loop involved. For me, therefore, all faith and all religion, not just my own Christianity, is trinitarian in nature.

Praying and Living the Trinity

While definitions of the Trinity have often been used to exclude suspected heretics and other kinds of church dissidents, there is also a rich tradition of exploiting the inherent symbolism of the Trinity for prayer and meditation. This has been a particular feature of Celtic Christianity, which seems to have celebrated the creation themes of God the Father in combination with a high Christology and a strong sense of the pervasive presence of the Spirit in the affairs of everyday life.

The following caim (or ‘encircling’) prayer is a fine example of this development:

The compassing of God be upon you,
the compassing of God, of the God of life.
The compassing of Christ be upon you,
the compassing of the Christ of love.
The compassing of the Spirit be upon you,
the compassing of the Spirit of grace.
The compassing of the Sacred Three be upon you,
the compassing of the Sacred Three protect you,
the compassing of the Sacred Three preserve you. Amen.
[SOURCE Celtic Daily Prayer from the Northumbria Community, ©2002 Northumbria Community.]

For further examples of the living tradition of Celtic Christianity, you might wish to check the following web sites:

One of the best examples of Trinitarian faith in the Celtic tradition is the hymn, St Patrick’s Breastplate:

I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever,
by power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation;
his baptism in Jordan river;
his death on cross for my salvation;
his bursting from the spiced tomb;
his riding up the heavenly way;
his coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
of the great love of cherubim;
the sweet “Well done” in judgment hour;
the service of the seraphim;
confessors’ faith, apostles’ word,
the patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls;
all good deeds done unto the Lord,
and purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven
the glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
his eye to watch, his might to stay,
his ear to hearken, to my need;
the wisdom of my God to teach,
his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
the word of God to give me speech,
his heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort
and restore me.
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of
all that love me,
Christ in mouth of
friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,
eternal Father, Spirit, Word
praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Jesus Database

Liturgies and Prayers

For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site

Other recommended sites include:

Music Suggestions

See the following sites for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre:

About gregoryjenks

Anglican priest and religion scholar. Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology at Charles Sturt University. Dean-elect, Cathedral Church of Christ the King, Grafton. Formerly Dean at St George's College, Jerusalem. Currently serving as the locum priest at Byron Bay Anglican Parish.
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One Response to Trinity Sunday (26 May 2013)

  1. Sue Emeleus says:

    Dear Greg, I have often derived great value from you emails, but this one on the trinity is extremely helpful. Thank you, Sue Emeleus

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