Last weekend we celebrated Trinity Sunday, the octave of Pentecost. We could say that Trinity Sunday is the fulfillment of Pentecost: the last thing to say about the Holy Spirit is that God is Trinity. Or we could say that the real point of the revelation of the Holy Spirit is to help us discover the Triune God.
One way to approach Trinity is to think about the “Filioque.” Latin has a funny little thing where you can add “-que” to the end of a word and it’s the same as putting the word “and” before it. “Filioque” means, “and the Filio” – “and the Son.”
What we call the Nicene Creed was first approved at the Council of Nicaea in 325, then significantly modified at the Council of Constantinople in 381. The finished product said, “the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father. With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.” In the second part he gets “Glory be” with the Father “and the Son,” but he only proceeds from the Father.
Later, Roman Catholics added “Filioque”: “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” It’s a change, an addition to the Nicene Creed. It was not approved by a Council, but was adopted by the Roman Church. (Good enough for me!)
It’s significant that it’s in Latin: like the New Testament and much of the first centuries of the Church, the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople were conducted in Greek. There’s a whole eastern, Greek-speaking part of the Church; before the rise of Islam, much of the leadership of the Church, both intellectually and spiritually, was Greek-speaking.
But the Greeks don’t say “Filioque.” In fact, historically, it’s one of the biggest fights between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox: they say we added to the Creed, and that’s not okay!
Here’s the interesting thing: both sides, we Romans who say “Filioque” and the Greeks who think we shouldn’t, are both insisting on how little we know of God.
We agree that the Holy Spirit, the one who comes to sanctify us, is divine: with the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified, “Glory be!”
But the Greeks oppose the Filioque because they fear we Romans think we know too much. We do know that the Father is the source of everything, even the Son and the Spirit – so we know that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. But we don’t know how, so it’s not appropriate to start adding lines like “and the Son.”
Interesting, though: the reason we say Filioque is not because we think we know so much. It too is a way of saying how little we know. We don’t know much about the Son. But in Latin theology, we say that the one thing we do know is that he’s exactly like the Father. We say “Filioque” because we say, look, all we know is that they are exactly alike, so if the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, he must proceed from the Son, too. In a way, we are saying, don’t complicate things by coming up with distinctions between the Father and the Son: what the Father does, the Son does.
For our purposes, my only point is, when we think about the Trinity, and the Holy Spirit, and the Filioque, etc., the main thing we should think is, God is infinitely beyond what I can understand. In fact, much of what we say in theology and in the Creed is merely there to remind us how little we can comprehend the wonderful mystery of God.
A few words, then, about Sunday’s readings. In the Gospel, we read that we are baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Let us just add, on Trinity Sunday, that we are baptized into the mystery of God – into something the greatness of which we cannot fathom. Try to come up with how amazing Baptism is – and it is way more amazing than that!
The first reading, from Deuteronomy, said, “Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live?” Let the feast of the Holy Trinity remind us how awesome, how incomprehensible, is that God who speaks to us. How unfathomable that he should call us into relationship with him!
And above all, in the second reading, from Romans, we read that we have been made “sons of God” by receiving the “Spirit of adoption,” who allows us to speak, to “cry, Abba, Father.” Let us ponder the awesome mystery of the unfathomable Trinity – and know that it is precisely this mystery that has been given to us – no, that we have been drawn into.
How do you ponder the awesomeness of the Triune God?