Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal.
Athanasian Creed, opening paragraph.
It turns out that there is a people on this earth who know quite exclusively the truth about God and therefore the nature of the reality he created.
It is not the West. Enlightenment era industrial revolution may have made Europe and America the conquerors of the world, but the truth does not fill the iron glove of Imperial might. Nor is it the ‘Eastern mystics’ so patronisingly mis-read by contemporary materialists to atone for their neglect not only of themselves but their community. The truth about God is not found in the records of kingdoms and dynasties. It did not march across the world with Alexander the Great’s army and no one took it to the farthest flung parts of the earth for people to go looking for it.
But who would trust people to bear the truth anyway?
It must have been written somewhere, sometime. Perhaps in the old books, the sacred books can the truth about God be found. If someone were to read long enough and broadly enough, surely then it would be unwrapped-the mystery of God! And we can gather around this book eating its pages for our food.
Yet books are just the product of people powerful enough to demand their ideas be written down, especially the old ones.
Then surely each person must discern the truth about God for themselves? Books and communities cannot be trusted with such a delicate and sacred thing. Group those people together and they can worship the God they have discovered: A true faith based not on fallible people but on the pure brilliance of the human imagination. These must be the people who know the truth about God!
The Church is a people in the midst of the world who share a book and have an imagination spanning thousands of years. The Church makes the bold announcement that she and she alone knows who God is. God is three Persons sharing one Being. God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
There have been many communities who have picked up the documents derived from the ancient Hebrew people and the early followers of Jesus who have not arrived at this conception of God. Regard the Unitarians or Islam, Anabaptists and Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses or Oneness Pentecostals. All of these and many others opened the pages of the Bible and arrived at a conception of God foreign to the preaching of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
It is not a foregone conclusion that one could pick up the Bible and arrive at the same knowledge of God. This is easily demonstrated with a glance through history or indeed five minutes on the internet. The idea of the Trinity belongs to the Church alone and unapologetically does she say with the words of Athanasius “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold (this belief in the Trinity)”.
How remarkable, how laughable that there should be in this world one people who claim exclusive knowledge of God! How fragile are such small people, easily blown about by whim and wealth. How subjective their readings of old books. How narrow minded to believe they alone know how to describe God!
Jesus, that great blank-cheque of moral discussion, is recorded to have prayed to God
“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world…I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.”
Jesus seems to believe that those he had called to be his disciples had been shown a truth that the world did not know. Therefore the disciple’s teaching, once they had become Apostles, was to disclose this truth about God to the world.
Thus there is born (again) in the world a people. The Church, who maintains to this day (with a quavering voice in recent years) the belief that she alone knows who God is.
An unpleasant people. A broken people. A sinful people.
Jesus did not seem to mind that when he told them all he would tell them. Who am I to insist that Jesus was wrong and that somehow the Church has become ‘broken’?
It seems to me that a belief in the doctrine of the Trinity is an act of submission, to give up one’s mind and indeed life to the Church and to affirm that throughout history, no matter what wrong her members have done, that she has triumphantly been faithful in proclaiming the truth about God.
It was always thus.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
2 Cor. 4:7