The Trinity is a response by Christians to the rich mystery of the Divine: How to begin to approach it? Four quotes from Elizabeth Johnson’s Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers of Theology (202-03): “The experience of salvation coming from God through Jesus in the power of the Spirit sets up such a powerful encounter with the Holy that it requires a new language. This language is trinitarian.” And: “. . .[T]he doctrine has become unintelligible and religiously irrelevant on a wide scale.” She notes: “Karl Rahner lamented that so weakly does this belief function in the spirituality, theology, and actual faith life of the church that if officials announced that a fourth person of the Trinity had been discovered, it would probably cause little stir.” And finally, “As Walter Kasper bluntly puts it, ‘Trinity is the Christian form of monotheism.’”
Assertions of believers about who God is and how God does are always cultural—invested in the regnant systems of the speakers. But such understanding is also resistant to the prosaic norms of culture. It seems clear that in the Old Testament the challenge of naming God was to reduce or refocus the multiplicity toward the more single or monotheistic, no small achievement. Jesus was of course a product of and participant in that tradition but also enriched it immeasurably, finding so many ways to speak of God and God’s Spirit. And Jesus’ followers added their insights about the ways in which Jesus imaged God, shared divine life.
In our day, the challenge may be to correlate our classic Trinitarian experience, belief and language with other ways of talking about being and Being (e.g., postmodern philosophy and physics). If the Trinity is basically about vital relationship, that seems promising, if challenging.
Barbara Green, O.P.