Crossing the T

Life at the intersection of Church and Trans with Rev. Allyson Robinson

Picturing the Trinity – means, motive, and opportunity?

In a recent interview with Sally Quinn of the Washington Post, Peter Gomes spoke about his sense of the divine in us as the coming together of “means, motive, and opportunity” in a person that results in “a sense of wholeness and goodness” and “a life fulfilled.” I like that.

Being a recent seminary graduate, though, whenever I hear things grouped in threes, I think of the Trinity. I wrote once that talking about the Trinity is like walking a tightrope:

The difficulty arises in trying to explicate the doctrine beyond the orthodox formulae. As soon as he begins to add verbiage, one finds himself on a tightrope, struggling to maintain balance between distinctness on the one hand and unity on the other. Like the tightrope walker, he finds that the smallest perturbations can quickly lead to gross doctrinal error, and that his corrections are inevitably over-corrections that only exacerbate the situation. Many who have made such attempts soon find themselves stumbling back to the simple, paradoxical formulae, kneeling to kiss the platform they left and foreswearing any further attempts to walk the tightrope.

Trinity shieldSt. Augustine (354-430 CE), one of the church’s greatest theologians, was made of much sterner stuff. In his de Trinitate, he famously proposed the psychological analogy (the mind’s intellect, memory, and will as analagous to the Trinity’s three-in-one) and the love analogy (Creator as lover, Logos as beloved, and Spirit as the love between them). These are only analogies, of course, but in the end, analogy may be the best we can do. The finer points of the triune existence are so shrouded in mystery that ultimately they are comprehensible only in the abstract, and only analogically.

Which leads me back to Professor Gomes. “Means, motive, and opportunity” seem like a great analogy for the Trinity, don’t they? Creator God is the means, the field of force through which all history is moved. “From God and through God and to God are all things,” writes Paul (Rom. 11:36). The Spirit is motive (from the Latin motus, the past participle of movere, “to move,”), the dynamic of God at work, much akin to Augustine’s picture of the Spirit as love both in its operation within God and in the world. Jesus Christ is the opportunity, the inbreaking of God and God’s reign into the cosmos, resulting in a cascade of opportunities in which we ourselves can take part.

Tight analogies make me smile. What do you think of this one? Does it work, or does it need some tweaking?

(Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons; click for larger view.)

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1 Comment»

  lucas wrote @

i like it… for the same reason you do. i need to ponder it more though to test it, see if it holds up. i really like jesus as opportunity. it fits with a lot of what has been stirring in me this advent.


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