frgavin on May 25th, 2013

by Peter Mullen, CEN

Trinity Sunday coming up again. You can’t blame preachers for steering clear of the doctrine of the Trinity. It’s not rocket science. It’s more difficult than that. So we take refuge in comparisons with three-leaf clovers. I recall Forty Years On, an early play by Alan Bennett and still, I think, one of his best. It’s set in a prep school and the young Confirmation candidate asks the Chaplain about the Trinity and he replies: “Oh three-in-one and all that – see your maths master!” But, as St Augustine said, Christianity begins and ends with the Trinity, so we ought to make the annual effort.

Trinity is the mysterious festival of the Being and Persons of God himself. And it’s perfectly acceptable simply to contemplate the Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Ghost; and by this to mean that we believe we were created, redeemed and sanctified.  Blaise Pascal in his night vision famously saw “not the God of the philosophers, but the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” But I wonder if I might take a little space to think about the philosophical significance of our faith.

Christianity is a powerful moral force, but it is also a magnificent intellectual achievement that enabled us to think of the world in an entirely new and creative way. The early Fathers of the Church were among the greatest philosophers and intellects of all time. They lived in the first four centuries after Christ in a long period of moral decay and also of intellectual decay. And by their brilliance and tenacity, they showed us how to put this right.

The late Roman Empire was a polytheistic, pagan society. Worse, it was in the grip of debilitating superstition. They worshipped many gods. Believing in many gods meant that they could not see the world as a unity. They had no concept of a unified world of nature. Everything was under the separate jurisdiction of what you might call the departmental gods.

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