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Trinity Sunday

06 June 2019

Proverbs 8.1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5.1-5; John 16.12-15


IN OUR Gospel, the disciples are told that the Holy Spirit will “guide them into all truth”. As the Spirit “declares” and “speaks” the truth of Christ, the disciples are drawn into the movement of adoration and self-giving that lies at the heart of the Triune God. Indeed, in the very act of revelation, we see something of that movement of love and delight. The Spirit glorifies the Son, who, in turn, owes all he has and is to the Father. As God pours our his life for us in Christ, and abides in us by his Spirit, Christians in every generation are drawn into that life, becoming “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1.4).

As Christians, we do not just pray to God. We pray in God — drawn by the Spirit into the Son’s offering of love and praise to the Father. The doctrine of the Trinity is the fruit of the deep integration of prayer and theology in the Early Church. Such integration may seem alien to the philosophies dominant in the modern West, which take all kinds of knowledge to be best secured through detached analysis.

By contrast, Proverbs offers a vision of ethical knowledge as something secured by learning from, and imitating, those who have lived wisely and well. As part of a living tradition, each person “learns to discern what is appropriate and of lasting value and gains competence in responding thoughtfully in all the moments that compose a life. The result is well-being beyond price” (Katherine Hayes, New Collegeville Bible Commentary: Proverbs).

The message of our first reading is that such knowledge is not a purely human achievement, but (in Hayes’s words) “a transcendent quality that comes from God”. In Proverbs 7, Wisdom is pictured as a woman calling to passers-by in the marketplace, in contrast to the “loud and wayward” voice of Folly, urging them to choose the way which leads to life.

Wisdom, we are told, was begotten by God “before the beginning of the earth”. She is no mere extrapolation from creaturely rationality, but is presented as an aspect of God himself. As the Early Church reflected on Christ’s relationship to the Father, it developed a “Wisdom Christology” — associating the Logosthrough whom all things came into being” (cf. John 1.3) with the figure of divine Wisdom in Proverbs.

Our lection speaks of a universe shaped by this Wisdom: of nature intrinsically ordered to be open to grace. It speaks of human goodness, not as an achievement that justifies us to a distant deity, but as a sign that this grace is already present within us. The passage ends with a description of wisdom “rejoicing before [God] always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race”. In the light of the incarnation, we read this as a portrait of the mutual delight at the heart of the Godhead, and of that same delight being poured on his creatures, as we are drawn by the witness of the Spirit into God’s movement of joy and adoration.

Sunday’s epistle adds a further dimension to this interweaving of theology, prayer, practice, and faithful witness. Paul reminds the Romans that, in their sufferings, they are drawn particularly close to their Triune God. The God who suffered and died for them is present in their own sufferings.

As Hans Urs von Balthasar explains, “in his suffering and death Jesus has made effective the love of God toward us and for us. This love can be nothing other than his own triune love. For God does not love us in a manner different from the way he loves in himself” (Light of the Word).

Reflecting on his experience of racism and violent persecution, Martin Luther King Jr echoes Paul’s conclusion: “The suffering and agonising moments through which I have passed over the last few years have drawn me closer to God. More than ever I am convinced of the reality of a personal God.”

In King, as for so many of the Church’s martyrs, suffering has produced endurance, character, and hope. For them, in the memorable words of Pope Francis, theology is not a subject “to be discussed calmly over tea”. Rather, it both inspires, and is informed by, the experience of faithful and costly witness. Their participation in the self-offering of Christ has drawn them into the heart of the Triune God.

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