Trinity Sunday: Faith in the Trinity
By: The Rev. Canon Manoj Matthew Zacharia
“I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…” (John 16:12)
This essay is written with the aim of helping our preparation for Trinity Sunday. Our context is decidedly a Christian theological community. My particular position is that of an Episcopal cleric who is informed by global Anglican sensibilities. As an Anglican, I am informed by a tradition that takes incarnational theology and social Trinitarian model as a springboard for deep reflection. The Anglican theologian Leonard Hodgson noted that “the doctrine of the Trinity is the result of God opening the eyes of men to see the theological significance of those divine acts to which the Bible bears witness.” In a context of increased interaction with those who are religiously, spiritually, and socio-culturally different, how does one understand the deposit of faith that is conveyed through the doctrine of Trinity?
This essay will not focus on the intricacies of the doctrine of the Trinity. Rather, I would like to focus specifically on inroads that can deeply inform the reading and interpretation of this doctrine in light of increased pluralistic and multicultural interactions. I believe that that in order for us to get a glimpse into the “truth” to which the Spirit of truth comes to guide us, perhaps we must take into account theological resources beyond the traditional grammar of Christian “scripture and tradition.”
St. John’s use of the imagery of “light” and truth” stands in contradistinction to darkness and inauthenticity. Such a contradistinction significantly points to a reality that Jesus came to be the word as the icon of the living God (Colossians 1:15). The farewell discourse pivots around Thomas’ question, “how can we know the way” to where Jesus is going. Jesus’ reply is seminal: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). This signifies that approaching God is emulating the path of Jesus by walking “the way” and grappling with truth. Thus, living an authentic life is centered on movement towards kairos and communion with God rather than marking time superficially.
The movement that Jesus proposes leads to an authentic life grounded in getting a glimpse of the God primarily through the person of Jesus and guided by the spirit of truth. In the words of Archbishop Michael Ramsey, “The dogma of the Blessed Trinity speaks of the Christian life, both as son-ship and fellowship with the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit, and as adoration of the Triune Name of One God, indivisibly Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier.” From this I understand that “life” is centered on Jesus and is about fellowship with God and with each other; yet, if God is the Ultimate Mystery and it is the spirit of truth that continuously reveals new truths that have the potential of offering glimpses of this Ultimate Mystery, might such an understanding of the Trinity enable us to be more open to truths in other religions as systems that enable us to get a grander glimpse into the Ultimate Mystery?
It is the Spirit of truth that enables one to recognize and live out the following:
1. Jesus is “the way” of the mystery we call God. As the Word made incarnate, we believe that Jesus fully reveals the mystery of God. The basis of our soteriological understanding is the full revelation of God through the kenotic crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Many Christians, including Anglicans, bear witness to and profess this mystery through the celebration of the sacraments. It is the power of the spirit of truth that transforms material substance into the means of grace whereby Christians receive foretaste of heaven through a deeply embodied relationship with God. In The Episcopal Church’s theological statement on interreligious relations entitled, Toward Our Mutual Flourishing, we read, “professing salvation in Christ is not a matter of competing with other religious traditions with the imperative of converting one another. Each tradition brings its own understanding of the goal of human life to the interreligious conversation.” One particularity of the Christian faith, as expressed in the catholic creeds, is our understanding of God as Trinity.
2. The Christian life is essentially about fellowship rooted in a Trinitarian understanding. Such a rootedness necessitates that those following the “way” of Christ live into the way of Christ and encounter the perceived other as pointers to the Ultimate Truth. The experience of the Christian community as reflected in Peter’s encounter with Cornelius (Acts 10) wherein the Holy Spirit was received by Cornelius prior to baptism as well as Paul’s encounter with the Athenians wherein he co-relates the “altar to the unknown God” (Acts 17) with Jesus are signifiers to the reality that the mystery of the Ultimate Truth, while understood for the Christian through the grammar of Jesus and the creeds, is much more than we imagine. We need the spirit of truth to continuously disclose to us movements where the Ultimate Truth can be witnessed and experienced.
3. Within the corpus of the Christian tradition are both the apophatic and cataphatic approaches. The utilization of tools from other resources can offer enrichment into a cataphatic engagement with theological truths. The spirit of Truth enables us to reflect on contemporary pluralistic realities. From this we glean that the Christian experience is one of living in diverse realities and contexts. Perhaps the church in the West can learn lessons from churches in the so-called “Global South” of how Christian witness can be lived out amidst religious and cultural diversity. For example, the South Asian Christian theological context has consistently grappled with reflecting on theological paradigms. These are all prayerful experiences rooted in a deeply Trinitarian reflection. In the West, one constructive proposal underway is the work of Francis X. Clooney and the New Comparative Theology group. What New Comparative Theology and theologies from the South Asian context attempt to do is to prayerfully engage other religious traditions (scripture and commentary) textually alongside fundamental Christian texts in order to enrich their theological reflection. The goal is neither to appropriate other religious texts apart from their theological context nor to engage in religious syncretism. The aim of projects like New Comparative Theology is to point to utilize resources that enable us to approach a greater understanding of the Ultimate Truth. The point is that in a changing global context Western Christianity must come to terms with visible forms of multiculturalism and an emerging world view that “is spiritual but not religious.” One avenue for theology to be truly incarnational and contextual is to be in enriching engagement with other religious (theistic and non-theistic) traditions.
Our particular tasks as those engaged in the study of scripture is to truly rely upon the guidance of the Spirit of truth so that we can interpret and contextualize scripture and the deposit of faith with relevance. My proposal is that in order to accomplish such a hermeneutical task, we must, with openness to the Spirit of truth, engage with tradition and the wide breadth of scripture utilizing the richness of other traditions in order to either provide clarity or context to concepts that we expound upon. I believe that increased openness being rooted in our tradition but with humility that we only have a deposit of the Ultimate Truth is a movement that finds its inspiration from the Spirit of truth. There are resources from a variety of traditions that can enable us to get a grander glimpse of the Ultimate Truth. In a context that sees the hegemony of the “Christian worldview” on the demise, perhaps inspiration from other traditions as experienced by the Spirit of truth may enable us to get a grander glimpse of God.
 Leonard Hodgson, The Doctrine of Trinity, 1943, 7.
 Michael Ramsey, An Era in Anglican Theology, 1960, 184.
The Rev. Canon Manoj Mathew Zacharia is Canon Sub-Dean at Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati. Canon Zacharia also serves as the Ecumenical Officer of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio and is currently ABD from his Ph.D. program (University of Toronto) in the area Philosophy of Religion.