‘The average Christian is as well equipped to meet an aggressive atheist or agnostic as a boy with a peashooter is to meet a tank’. So wrote my former Diocesan Bishop, Rt Rev’d John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford. I am sure that comment could be a deemed a little unfair by some Christians but, when it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity, I fear that in most cases, Bishop John is probably right. For the doctrine of the Trinity is one that Christians know they ought to believe, but which many will tell you is one they have not, or cannot, fully grasp, let alone adequately explain.
Today, the first Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost, is always kept as Trinity Sunday, the only Sunday in the Christian calendar dedicated to a doctrine. It is the annual occasion when I have to preach, and hopefully explain, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. How God is revealed as Creator and Father; took human form in the person of Jesus, the Word made flesh; and is at work in the world today by the person and power of the Holy Spirit who indwells each believer. Three persons yet, one God!
How well I succeeded in my task, I’ll leave to those who heard me preach today. Or you can judge for yourself as my sermon has now been uploaded to our Church website and you can listen to it by clicking on this link. However, I am always reassured by the quotation, attributed to St. Augustine of Hippo – ‘If you can understand it, it isn’t God’. It is a reminder that, by his very being and nature, the infinite Triune God is beyond our finite human understanding.
One of things I do enjoy about Trinity Sunday, is the opportunity it gives to sing some of the many wonderful Trinitarian hymns which are part of English hymnology. So it was that today we sang, ‘Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty’, ‘Thou, whose almighty word’ and the more recent twentieth century hymn, ‘Father, Lord of all creation’. But we ended with what is my favourite Trinitarian hymn – ‘We give immortal praise’, by the late seventeenth/early eighteenth century hymn writer, Isaac Watts.
The hymn has four verses, the first three of which are individually addressed to the three persons of the Holy Trinity. It is normally sung to the tune, ‘Croft’s 136th’, an organ rendition of which can be listened to here.
But the fourth and last verse, which gives praise to the Holy and Undivided Trinity, expresses both praise, but also the limits of our human understanding.
Almighty God, to thee
be endless honours done,
the undivided Three,
and the mysterious One:
where reason fails
with all her powers,
there faith prevails,
and love adores.
This side of heaven, we will never fully understand the Triune God. But where reason fails, faith does prevail, and love does adore.