Fr Paul’s Sermon:

When I said to someone that I was (again) down to preach on Trinity Sunday, he replied, “So you’ve drawn the short straw again”, the implication being that no preacher ever wants to have to explain the fundamental mystery of our faith. Well, actually I do. I’ve preached on the Trinity many times, and always inadequately, but every time I fail I want to have another go. This time, I thought I would take the so-called “Athanasian Creed as my basis. This is printed in the Book of Common Prayer, and is one of the ancient statements of Christian belief that the Church of England takes as basic. We happen to have been given a lot of copies of the BCP recently, and in my opinion every Anglican household should have a copy somewhere, for reference – so feel free to take a copy home. The Creed comes after the Order for Evening Prayer, I think it is page 27 in many editions.

It begins; “WHOSOEVER will be saved: before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholick Faith. Let’s start with “Saved”.  The picture is of someone in a dangerous situation, who is being rescued, and put in a safe situation. The condition for this happening is that the person in danger recognises their situation, and has complete trust in the one who rescues them. Without that trust, danger may lead to disaster. (eg, someone who has strayed into a minefield needs to trust the person who tells them exactly where they should step. One wrong step, and …!)

The one in whom we trust (and whom worship) is a “Trinity” (this is an abstract noun meaning simply “three-ness”), and we need some understanding of what this means. The basic reality is that there is only one God, one ultimate and supreme Being, who is ultimate and supreme in three distinct ways. We should not confuse these three ways, nor should we suppose they mean three distinct beings: there is only one God.

We call these three ways of being God “Persons”, but this English word doesn’t really translate the original languages of Latin and Greek. We call the three Persons Father, Son and Holy Spirit: but they are not what in English we would call three separate persons, a sort of divine committee. They are three ways in which the one and only God exists, uncreated (just existing, the basic and fundamental FACT), eternal (not subject to time), incomprehensible (meaning that our minds cannot fully grasp the reality, not that we can know nothing at all about it), almighty (meaning able to do anything that is possible: if God can’t do it, it is just impossible).

The first way in which God is God, is in being the origin of everything else (including the Son and the Spirit). A great saint once described God as a fountain, a never-ending source of everything that is. It is in this aspect that we call God “Father”.

The second way in which God is God, is in knowing himself perfectly, and being the ultimate Pattern which every other thing that exists imitates in some way. The same saint said that every created thing is either the shadow, the likeness or the image of God. God’s perfect self-Image is within his own mind, and we call it the Word, or the Son (although “Son” strictly refers to the Word made Man, Jesus (but we will come to that).

The third way that God is God, is by his Love. The Love of God is as it were his life-breath, and we name it the Holy Spirit. It is this that holds everything together. God’s originating Power, his self-Knowledge and his free Love are distinct between themselves, but they are still only one God.

God knows everything that is possible, every possible alternative world and everything in it, and by his free love he chooses to create the actual world we live in. The centre-piece of that world is Jesus Christ, who is God in human form. Strictly, he is God’s self-image in human form – not the Father, nor the Spirit, but the eternal Word of God in human form.

The second part of the Creed speaks of this. In Jesus, God took on human nature. He did this, not by “adopting” or “taking over” some already existing human being, but by identifying himself with a single cell in the womb of Mary, and (drawing the material elements from her, as all babies do, but in-breathing a human soul, as he does for each of us) creating a complete human being who is at the same time himself.

“For the right Faith is that we believe and confess: that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God, of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds: and Man, of the Substance of his Mother, born in the world; Perfect God, and Perfect Man: of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting; …For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man: so God and Man is one Christ.”

One God: existing in three different ways; one Christ, who is truly God, yet truly human. Jesus, the human face of God. If we put our trust in God (not simply in a theoretical way, but as the basis of our own way of life), as the Creator from whom everything seen and unseen comes; as the one who reveals himself as Jesus the Messiah, the Ideal yet Real human being, who came into the world two thousand years ago, who died and rose again and is evermore in his humanity united with God; and as the Spirit and Power of Love, which can transform us into the images of God we are meant to be: if we put our trust in that God, then we will indeed be “saved”, rescued from every danger that might diminish or destroy us, and placed in a relationship that will forever keep us safe. This is the Catholic Faith, which we preach and maintain here at All Hallows, and bear witness to in a world that does not yet understand and accept it. God bless you all in your faith, and in your following of Jesus Christ. Amen.