When I became Catholic, the Trinity surprised me. It is not that I didn't believe or affirm the Trinity in my life as a Protestant - I most certainly did. I would have died for it. But the Trinity was often eclipsed by the person of Jesus.
As a Catholic, however, the Trinity is a towering reality - He forms our prayers and calls us to community. Our faith is grounded in God as Trinity (the creeds are organized to reflect this reality). Now, I love reading and listening to the wealth of what is written and spoken about in Orthodoxy. (Though my personal experience is that Catholics like Orthodoxy a whole lot more than the Orthodox like Catholicism.) And most of the time, I agree with the Orthodox position - not counter to my Catholicism, but in support of it.
(All that is good and beautiful and holy in Protestantism and Orthodoxy, belongs to Catholicism. I only make that statement to describe what I have discovered, not to offend or condemn. It is also why Catholics refer to the Catholic Christian faith as the fullness of faith. It is not a lowest-common-denominator kind of faith, as in What do I have to believe? Rather, it is all about the fullness of sharing in the life of the Trinity. It is truly catholic. Likewise, it is truly orthodox and truly evangelical.)
To get back to my story, I was listening to an Orthodox podcast, Our Life in Christ,this morning about the dogmas of the Church, specifically, the dogma of the Trinity.
The hosts of the show, Bill Gould and Steve Robinson, asked a question that got my brain cranking. The question ran something along the lines of, If we took the doctrine of the Trinity out of our churches, would it change anything? Does the Trinity have any bearing on how we live our lives and how we worship?
We are created in the image of God. And that image, the image of the Trinity, is not of absolute autonomy, but of absolute community/fellowship. "It is," after all, "not good for man to be alone."
During the podcast, the hosts shared a quote that I would like to share with you. The quote is from an article by Clark Carlton about his journey from the Southern Baptist denomination to the Eastern Orthodox church. Carlton has struggled through this idea of community and autonomy and says the following:
I discovered, however, that sin is not the mere breaking of a rule, but is nothing less than the denial of love and, therefore, of life itself. When I discovered the Trinity, I also discovered the true nature of man, for man was created in the image of this God of Triune love. Man was created precisely as a personal being, one who is truly human only when he loves and is loved. Sin "missing the mark" is not a moral shortcoming or a failure to live up to some external code of behavior, but rather the failure to realize life as love and communion. As Christos Yannaras puts it, "The fall arises out of man's free decision to reject personal communion with God and restrict himself to the autonomy and self-sufficiency of his own nature." In other words, sin is the free choice of individual autonomy. Irony of ironies: that which I had been touting all of these years as the basis of true religion the absolute autonomy of the individual turned out to be the Original Sin!
The other day, as I was going through my oldest daughter's Faith Formation (CCD for you Catholic Yanks) homework, I ran across a fill-in-the-blank worksheet. Under each blank was a number that corresponded to a letter in a Key on the page. On this worksheet were two telling questions. One was "Jesus is our _ _ _ _ _ _" with SAVIOR being the word that filled the six blanks. Another was "Jesus loves _ _." The depth of the worksheet struck me when Sophie and I found the corresponding letters that went with the two blanks of the second question. The word that completed that phrase was US and not ME.
Now, does Jesus love me? Is he my savior? Absolutely. But in the context of the larger community. The idea of community is an essential ecclesial truth that evangelical Protestantism has largely ignored (and even condemned) in its grasping for autonomy. When I say, "Jesus loves us," it broadens my world. It creates an opening for me to love my neighbor. The same is true for the Lord's Prayer. It is "Our Father ... Give us this day our daily bread / And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. / Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." We do harm to our understanding of the prayer and the strength of the prayer when we individualize it.
In Protestantism, there is an increasing awareness of community. I hope it continues to grow in that direction as Protestants understand themselves as part of the communion of saints and in communion with God. It is an understanding that grows directly out of our personhood, created in the likeness of a triune God.