[May 22, 2016] Today is Trinity Sunday. On Easter Sunday Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to the Father, after which his human nature became glorified; he then met with his gathered disciples and breathed into them his own breath, that is, the breath of God, the Holy Spirit, who now dwells or abides in everyone who believes into Jesus. Forty days later he stopped manifesting himself to his disciples’ physical senses, as he had been, and ascended into heaven, the invisible realm of creation on its Godward side. Ten days later, on the Jewish Festival of Pentecost, he breathed from heaven upon his disciples the power of the Holy Spirit that he might continue his apostolate on earth through them.
Last Sunday I correlated the Spirit’s coming to dwell in us, when we believe, to the Spirit’s dwelling in Jesus from his conception (for the Son and the Spirit mutually dwell in each other eternally, namely “before” time, “in” time and “after” time); and I correlated the church’s receiving the power of the Spirit on Pentecost to Jesus’ receiving the power of the Spirit at his baptism. The first produces the fruit of the Spirit in us; the second equips us to do ministry with the charismata of the Spirit.
This leads to Trinity Sunday. Easter and Pentecost are the foundation: Easter is about Jesus coming to dwell in us as the Holy Spirit. It is collective but we experience it individually because of its interiority. Pentecost is about our coming under the anointing of the Spirit that rests on the church. This takes place when we join ourselves to the church. I do not mean here denominational institutions as such; they are not the church. I mean the Body of Christ. It is appropriate to speak here of the Body for it is only as members of the Body that we participate in Christ, whose head was anointed. Like it says in Psalm 133, the oil on his head flows down to the hem (or collar) of his garment. This is not an individual experience for we experience it as exterior (being related to work) and always in relation—somehow—to others. For simplicity’s sake, we can say that Pentecost is the beginning of the church (in its outward apostolate) and baptism marks the beginning of the Christian life of the individual.
We respond to the first by receiving baptism from the church; we respond to the second by receiving the laying on of hands by those who represent the church (apostles—or bishops—with the presbytery of the parish—or locality—if there are any). If the apostolate is present, they may happen simultaneously on the same occasion.
When we hear the Gospel and respond by giving our fealty to Jesus, it is because the Spirit who anoints the church and its proclamation with power has worked within our hearts to produce faith. Our desire to follow Jesus leads us to receive the baptism with which he was baptized, that is, to receive his own baptism, by which the Spirit which anoints the church comes upon us, as we signify by the laying on of hands which follow (either immediately or later, as in the rite of confirmation). When we begin the Christian life we are stepping into Jesus’ shoes to follow in his footsteps and to live as he lived. To live the Christian life is to live in Christ.
The Christian life begins then with the operation of the Holy Spirit in our spirit transforming our hearts so that we give ourselves in faith, i.e., faithfulness, fidelity, allegiance, and loyalty, to Jesus. We signify this by public baptism which marks our penance and separation from the world (the world as a noetic gestalt under divine condemnation). In the Acts of the Apostles and in Paul’s baptism we frequently hear that people are baptized not only “upon” (epi) the Name of Jesus but into (eis) his Name and even into Jesus himself, his Person. In fact, the Name signifies the Person, in this case, the revelation of his divine Person in the human being we know as Jesus of Nazareth. However, when it comes to one of the earliest recorded statements on baptism, the qualification of baptism that we find in Matthew’s gospel (52 C.E.), we have something like a formula that probably from the beginning was a common formulation. To be baptized into the Name of Jesus is in fact to be baptized into the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is not only one of the first written testimonies teaching of Christian baptism, it is also the first written testimony of the threefold Name in this form. The “Name” of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is what we came later to call the “Trinity.”
Jesus said, “Go therefore and disciple all the gentiles, baptizing them into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have command you.” This may have been the earliest form of Christian baptism and quickly became the basis for the Rule of Faith which eventually evolved into the church’s baptismal Creed. Jesus’ commission can be broken down like this:
Therefore (1) go
(2) disciple all the gentiles
(a) baptizing them into the Triune Name
(b) teaching them to observe all that I have command you
We begin our life by being baptized into the Triune Name. The word “baptize” literally means to dunk or immerse, such as when you are dying fabric. We are immersed into this Name. This means that the life which we now live from this point on is a life lived under obedience to the commandments of Christ.
We want to consider then what this means, to be baptized into the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. What prior “picture” can give us a clue? There are many places where we see the Three juxtaposed, but where do we get a picture of them all together? When you visit the catacombs in Rome you see that one of the earliest pictures of the Trinity was the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. To depict the Trinity they painted a picture of Christ coming up out of the water, the heavens opening and the Father speaking, and the Holy Spirit as a dove coming upon him. This picture depicts the Trinity while it also depicts the meaning of our own baptism. When we discern this, then we realize that at the same time it encapsulates the meaning of the Christian life.
Martyrs were baptized in blood because of this Name. In the Catacombs of Callixtus there is enshrined a depiction of a fourteen-year-old female martyr, St. Cecille, defiantly making the sign of the Trinity by signifying three with her right hand and one with her left as she lay bleeding to death. The baptism in the Spirit is sacramentalized by the baptism in water and sealed by the baptism of death. Christ, as he approached his coming holocaust in Jerusalem, asked James and John if they were willing to be baptized with the baptism with which he was about to be baptized. It sealed the life he began at the waters of the Jordan.
When Jesus was baptized, it sealed his obedience, for at that point he took on the yoke of penance. He wholeheartedly entered into solidarity with us. This is why the Gospel is radically inclusive. He became a penitent, placing himself under the judgment of God and embracing that judgment as right, and loving God whose judgment it is. That act of obedience, which God was looking for from him, caused the wall between heaven and earth to open into a window. For Jesus there was an open window into heaven. There was no longer a divide. In his spirit he was as much in heaven as he was on earth. The communion between him and the Father became completely transparent, open and free. Why? Because the Father was well pleased with his act of faithfulness. “You are my Son, my Beloved. In you I have found my delight.” When this voice of the Father spoke, the Spirit came forth from the Father and anointed Jesus. Since the Spirit already dwelt in him, the power of the Spirit was coming home. And John says the Spirit remained, or abided, or dwelled on him.
(Jesus’ self-consciousness as the Son of God was developing and maturing as he grew up. At this point something new happened in his self-awareness. Perhaps it was at this point it was given to him to know that his “I”—that is, that which is aware of his field of consciousness, that which knows himself as “me”—was no other than God’s own “I,” not confusing himself with the Father but becoming aware of his person’s identity with the divine. In speculating this I am suggesting something well beyond, indeed impossible, for our understanding or imaginings.)
This is significant for us, for Jesus was anointed with power only when he emptied himself of any privilege that naturally belonged to him as the Son of God and placed himself in solidarity with sinners under the judgment of God. This is the meaning of his poverty, his making himself poor for our sakes, his kenosis. What he expresses in doing so is love and humility—both love and humility towards God and towards creation. He emptied himself, and that emptying is what pleased the Father, because it expresses the divine way of being, the way God is, God’s own nature. (If this inclination toward self-emptying humility were not a perfection of the divine nature, the Incarnation would not have happened; it “preceded” the Incarnation and informed it, and therefore is not a consequence of the Son having become human amidst a sinful humanity.) It is also consequently and therefore the joyful form of obedience to which we are called.
We are called to this same life by the Spirit who dwells in us, and we are anointed with the power to live it by the Spirit coming upon us as members of Christ’s body.
What we see in all of this so far, and we will go a little further, is not a metaphysical discussion of the Trinity—though my readers know I do not shy from that—but our experience of the Trinity. The Trinity is something we experience and live in before we understand it, and it is by this experience and living that we come to understanding it, if we ever do.
The Father is the transcendent one in heaven, the one who speaks to us. The Son is before us, whom we behold and contemplate as our image and mirror. The Son is indeed the word that the Father speaks to us. The Spirit, breathed out from the Father and into us when the Father speaks the Son to us is the one who dwells in us, mingled with our own spirit, who is our life, and becomes the living of Jesus in us, who slowly transforms us from the inside out into the image and likeness of Christ. In Hebrew the consonants on a page are left without vowels, for they cannot come “alive” (be spoken aloud and heard) until vowels are breathed into them. The is an analogy of the Trinity: The Speaker, the Word and the Breath (consider the story of creation in Genesis 1).
Let us now consider Romans 5:1-5. By believing on Jesus (epi, Romans 4:24) we are justified out of (ek: by) faith or faithfulness (either Jesus’ faithfulness or our faithfulness to God by our faithfulness to Jesus). That being so, “we have peace toward God through (dia) our Lord Jesus Christ, through (dia) whom also we have obtained access by (translating the dative) the (same) faithfulness into (eis) this grace in (en) which we stand and boast because of (epi) the hope of the glory of God … and the hope does not put [us] to shame, because (hoti) the love of God has been poured out (ek) in (en) our hearts through (dia) [the] Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
The Father loving us through the cross of Christ, loves us as if we were the Son. There is an open heaven between us, and we have access to the grace (gratuitousness) or love of God. We are in the Son, participating in his privilege of sonship in relation to the Father. It is from this perfect and free relationship between the Father and the Son—that we are sharing in—that we have inner peace. Our life now is a life lived in grace. The Father is free to simply love us. This is the grace in which we stand. As believers this is our privilege to which we invite all.
This grace in which we stand, however, has a purpose. We do not become the object of the Father’s love toward the Son for our own sake but for God’s sake. It is God’s purpose to share the divine glory with us. Our participating in God’s love means that this is the target to which God is working in our lives. We can therefore boast of the glory of God. Because this is God’s purpose for us, that we share in Christ’s glory—the divine glory that he had before the worlds came to be—we can be confident that God will work this out in us, and therefore our hope overcomes the shame of our condition.
But how? How will we be so transformed? By the love of God which has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who indwells our spirit. The Holy Spirit mingled with our own spirit has given us a new heart by revealing Christ to us and making Christ the object of our hearts, our true desire and love. By this means the love of God begins to change us through the Spirit transforming our sinful and worldly souls, breaking down the strength of its false identity and recreating a new person in the likeness of Christ. The Spirit which glorified Christ’s humanity will glorify ours by “crucifying” and saving our souls. This interior operation conforming us to Christ is the action of the love of the Father poured out in us.
This then is the Christian life. With an open heaven between the Father and us, we are transformed from one degree of glory to another into the image and likeness of Christ by the interior Holy Spirit within us. This description of the Christian life is actually superimposed on our participation in the Trinity itself. The Christian life is this sharing and participation in the dynamic life of the Triune God, in the swirling movement of love between them. That movement is what is at work in us transforming us.