Readings invite us to enter into mystery of Trinity

By: By Father Doug Grandon

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, May 30
Proverbs 8:22-31; Psalm 8:4-5,6-7,8-9; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

The Catechism of the Catholic Church declares that the Most Holy Trinity is a mystery “inaccessible to reason alone” (237). Thus, every attempt to explain the Trinity falls well short of the mark. Even the authors of Scripture refrain from offering a discourse on the Trinity.

This week’s New Testament readings both mention all three persons of the Trinity. In Romans 5, St. Paul detailed several implications of our having been justified (made righteous) by faith: We now have “peace with God (the Father) through our Lord Jesus Christ.” We now have the ability to “rejoice in our suffering” because “the love of God has been poured into our hearts, through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (by the Father and the Son).”

John 16 is part of what theologians call Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse.” Over three years Jesus had taught his disciples everything they needed to know at that time. However, Jesus tells us that following his ascension, the Spirit would come to “guide you into all truth.” Jesus declared what he had received from the Father. The Holy Spirit would declare what he received from the Son.

Andrei Rublev’s early 14th century icon, “The Holy Trinity,” is a masterpiece of Russian iconography. This well-known image depicts the Holy Trinity in the form of the three messengers who visited with Abraham under the oak of Mamre (Genesis18:1-8).

Father Gregory Krug has pointed out that the persons of the Trinity are depicted with equal dignity, in the order they are confessed in the Nicene Creed. The first angel represents the first person of the Trinity, God the Father. The second or middle angel is God the Son. The third is God, the Holy Spirit. All three are blessing a chalice, in which lies a sacrificed calf, signifying the Savior’s death on the cross and the sacrament of holy Eucharist. All three hold staffs in their hands, symbolizing their divine power.

The first angel wears a blue undergarment, representing his divine, celestial nature and a light purple outer garment, which points to his royal dignity. Above his head towers the house of Abraham and an altar, highlighting the Father as Creator and Master of salvation history. His head is unbowed and he is looking at the other angels. His demeanor speaks of his fatherly dignity. The other two angels have their heads inclined, with their eyes turned toward the first angel, as though conversing with him.

The undergarment of the second angel, located in the center of the icon, is dark crimson, which symbolizes the incarnation. The blue outer robe signifies the angel’s divinity. The second angel is inclined toward the first and is pointing with his finger towards the chalice. The tree extending above the second angel’s head serves as a reminder of the tree of life found in Eden — and of the cross.

The angel on the right represents the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. His light blue undergarment represents divinity; his smoky-green outer garment, the Spirit’s life-giving power. The Holy Spirit draws all of creation into a life of moral purity, represented by the mountain above the third angel.

Ken Howell has pointed out that Rublev’s icon depicts a trinity of chalices. There is the chalice on the table. The inside arms and legs of the first and third angels create a second, larger chalice, in which the second angel is seated. A third, larger chalice, which envelopes all three of the angels, is created by the outside limbs of the outer angels.

Icons offer us an opportunity to transcend the merely intellectual and experience “theology in color.” Rublev intentionally left an open space at the table before the three angels. There, Abraham, our father in faith, once sat. On this Trinity Sunday, we are again invited to enter into the sacred mystery of the Holy Trinity.


Father Douglas Grandon is parochial vicar of Sacred Heart Parish in Moline.

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