Archive for August, 2011

On the Trinity

August 14, 2011

From the Rector’s Desk . . .

Continuing a discourse on the Trinity from a recent sermon:

I have heard people say that that they have trouble reciting the Nicene Creed. The most common objection is that the Creed is an ancient formula that attempts to define God in ways that do not reflect modern categories of thought. In effect, that the Creed is irrelevant to modern life and experience. I have also been told that the Creed represents an attempt by leaders of the Church to impose standardized teaching on debatable matters, and so perpetuates paternalism and clericalism. Finally, I hear that the Apostles’ Creed is more ancient, less legalistic, and will do fine thank you if we need a creed at all.

My own view is that the Apostles Creed is indeed quite old, and that there is evidence that in the early Church a rudimentary version was used as part of the rite of Baptism. Since this particular confession of faith begins “I believe,” there is good reason to reserve this form for Baptisms and personal reaffirmations of the Baptismal Covenant.

On the other hand, the Nicene Creed begins “We believe,” and therefore is intended to express the agreed Faith of the Church, even if individual Christians may experience doubt or reservations on occasion. This “We” formula seems quite appropriate for the corporate nature of the weekly parish Sunday Eucharist.

In the past it was assumed that the Creeds express “propositional” truth. That is to say, that they make statements that refer to objective reality. This “orthodox” perspective bothers liberals, who tend to think of church doctrine (and the Bible) as relating to religious experience rather than objective truth.

There is a third way to understand the Creeds[1], in which they function as a kind of symbolic system, or “language”, for expressing the rules by which we talk about God. In my recent sermon on Trinity Sunday, I held up a diagram of the Trinity. For those who could not see the drawing I have reproduced it below.

I do not think the drawing adequately represents God, or even begins to explain the mystery of the Holy Trinity. But I will say that at least we can derive some lessons from the drawing regarding what not to say about God. (more…)