“O triple Light that glitters in their sight, a single star.” The Italian poet Dante provides us with an opening quotation for this first Sunday after the conclusion of the Easter season, in which we celebrate the mystery of God as three in one. The feast of the Most Holy Trinity was established in the second millennium, relatively late in the Church’s history. Maybe such a feast was not essential, because Christians have constantly praised this “most ancient of all mysteries” of Father, Son and Spirit, even before the formal theological definitions.
The gospel in this year of Matthew comes in fact from John, from chapter 3 where Jesus discourses with Nicodemus on the meaning of baptism. The text is just three verses, a “trinity” therefore: though only 69 words in the Greek original and 76 in the RSV translation, it offers us a poetry of sinuous essentiality. The style of John is notable for its repetitions and interweaving of words. Each of the three verses evokes the link between Father and Son: the giving (gave his only Son), the sending (sent the Son) and the begetting (Son of God). The motivation of God’s action is proclaimed in the opening verb: loved. Then there follows a series of words suggesting two radically opposed conditions for the human race: salvation or condemnation. The five words or phrases: not perish, life, not to condemn, saved, not condemned of the text outweigh the single condemned.
But how may we be saved rather than condemned? The answer is provided in the four times repeated verb believe. It seems that here in John, just as in Paul, the mechanism of salvation is not moral: it does not depend on how well we obey the law. Rather, it turns on our relationship with the Son, how far we trust in him, how far we accept that he has already done what is necessary, how far we allow him to direct our lives.
“Son” cannot exist without “Father”. But, perhaps surprisingly, in this gospel for the solemnity of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is not mentioned. He is present, however, subtly implied in the key verb loved. “The living spring, the living fire, sweet unction and true love” is how the Pentecost hymn describes the Spirit. The Spirit, called “love”, manifests the love of Father and Son, into which we are drawn. We began with a quotation from Dante; let us conclude with the final words of the Divine Comedy, and praise “the Love which moves the sun and the other stars”.
By Fr Edmund Power osb