The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Year C
First Reading: Proverbs 8:22-31; Response: Psalm 8:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; Second Reading: Romans 5:1-5; Gospel: John 16:12-15
The first reading is from the Book of Proverbs. The first line of the book attributes it to King Solomon, but the author or editor (singular or plural) is unknown. Solomon died in 922 B.C. The approximate date of the assembling of the material in this book is sometime between 500-400 B.C. There is a tradition found in 1 Kings 5:9-14 that praises the wisdom of Solomon. His reputation for wisdom is also based on the well-known incident in 1 Kings 3:16-28 — his judgment regarding which woman was the true mother of the live baby. Be that as it may, a man who has 700 wives and 300 concubines is not a wise man (see 1 Kings 11:3). His connection with proverbs rests on this statement from I Kings 5:12, “He composed three thousand proverbs….” Parts of the Book of Proverbs are also attributed to sages who were not Israelites. Along with other Old Testament books, Sirach for example, it constitutes what is known as wisdom literature. Much of it is common sense learned by observation – and often adopted from peoples other than Israelites.
In the Book of Proverbs, wisdom is personified as a woman — let us say Lady Wisdom. In today’s reading, she delivers the second of her speeches. She proclaims her eternity or semi-eternity, depending on how one translates, “The Lord possessed me,” or “The Lord created me.” The former translation is closer to the Hebrew version, while the latter is closer to the verb used in the Greek Old Testament. During the Arian struggles of the fourth and fifth centuries, the translation “created” was a source of controversy when Arians used this passage as speaking of Jesus as Son of God, (which it did not), but which was interpreted by Church Fathers as referring to Jesus long before Arianism. The Fathers, however, interpreted the verb as begotten rather than created. From this passage, through the word created, the Arians taught that the Son of God was God’s first creation — a teaching contrary to our faith. In the Nicene Creed, professed at Sunday Masses, we proclaim of the Son of God, “God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made….” It seems best to let this passage from Proverbs keep its original meaning — Lady Wisdom speaking of herself. Our liturgy, however, by using this reading as the first reading for the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity, seems to follow the Fathers by interpreting it of the Son. That is, however, an adaptation, giving the words of Lady Wisdom a new meaning.
Psalm 8 is one of several creation songs in our Book of Psalms. The psalm exalts humanity as being just a little less than the angels but crowned with glory and honor; ruling over the works of God’s hands, who subjects all his works to human beings. The Psalmist makes a short list of our subjects: sheep, oxen, birds, fish, and anything that swims in the sea. Church Fathers, for example St. Ambrose (died 397) and Cassiodorus (died 580), interpreted this Psalm in reference to Jesus, especially in his human nature. Even St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:25-28 and Ephesians 1:22, did the same. Clever and legitimate extensions of the original meaning, but clearly an adaptation.
Thus far in our readings, there has been no mention of the Three Divine Persons of the Holy Trinity. The second reading rewards our patience. Paul writes to the Romans, “...we have peace with God (the Father) through our Lord Jesus Christ (the Son),” and “...the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit given to us.” The first line, “…since we have been justified by faith….” True; but not by faith alone, as Martin Luther taught. Paul himself writes in Philippians 2:12, “…work out your salvation in fear and trembling.” Consult, especially, the Letter of James 5:14-22. But Luther was no friend of the Letter of James.
Today’s gospel also gives us explicit references to the Holy Trinity. The Son is speaking. The context is the Last Supper in John’s gospel. The first sentence comes after Jesus has been speaking throughout chapters 13, 14, 15 and part of 16. So he said, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.” Yet, he continues speaking for the rest of chapter 16 and all of 17. In the other three gospels, Jesus says very little at the Last Supper. In the Gospel of John, we do not always have the actual words of Jesus, but a long meditation on his words and actions at the Last Supper. The Son mentions the Holy Spirit as a follow up to his own ministry: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you to all truth.” But the Holy Spirit does not work alone. “He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and declare to you the things that are to come.” In John 14:24, Jesus said similarly of himself, “The word that you hear (from me) is not my own, but it is the word of the Father who sent me.” Jesus involves the Father. “Everything that the Father has is mine.” Thus we have the intimacy of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit working as one, though we attribute specific functions to the individual Persons. A mystery, indeed, involves how all that works – at least from a human point of view. No wonder Paul gave up trying to solve another mystery and wrote, “O the depth of the riches and knowledge of God! How incomprehensible his judgments! How unsearchable his ways! (See Romans 11:33).
What practical teaching can be drawn from the mystery of the Holy Trinity as revealed — One God, yet Three Divine Persons? In Ephesians 5:21-32, St. Paul speaks of a mystery — the union between Christ and the Church; that the union between husband and wife reflects that mystery. Could not the same be said of the mystery of the Holy Trinity? Between Father, Son and Spirit there is unity in diversity; mutual, selfless love productive of holiness and wholeness that overflows into creation. In the ideal human family, in a marriage, there is unity in diversity; mutual, selfless love that is productive of holiness and wholeness, which overflows into the creation of children. As in the Holy Trinity, so also in a marriage, there is giving of all to one and one to all. As the love within the Trinitarian family overflows into creation, redemption and sanctification of the world, so the love within a marriage overflows in the creation, education and sanctification of children.