Wearing a green cloak over a tunic of azure blue, the Consoler-Spirit symbolizes life and sanctification. With the other two figures, Jesus blesses the cup with the stylized Eastern blessing. The facial features suggest a set of identical triplets. The raised eyes of the Father appear anxious because of the sacrifice his Son will accept.
Unity in Diversity
The unity in diversity is brought about by the clothing, circular form, and motif of the composition revealing Rublev’s masterful insight into the mystery of the unity of the Godhead. Through the icon’s color, form, and symbol, we grasp the truth of the central mystery of the Eucharist. Its loveliness has surpassed the abstract symbols of a bearded man and a dove.
A Matter of Relationship
The Johannine gospel, more than the Synoptic narratives, is rich in Trinitarian theology. Here, John gives us a deeper grasp into the inner life of the Trinity which is entirely about the relationship of love. The Father is mentioned almost one hundred twenty times. And Jesus addresses God as Abba—papa. Scholars agree that in Jesus’ use of the Aramaic Abba, we have his very own word.
Jesus tells the disciples that he will ask the Father to send them the Holy Spirit in his name to teach them everything. He taught his followers to pray to God as “our father.” What did the Father mean to Jesus? The answer is in the language of love: “I am in the Father, and the Father is in me” (Jn 14:10). We participate in this divine life: “You (my disciples) will understand that I am in the Father, and you in me and I in you” (Jn 14:20). This outpouring of love is not a thing or an emotion but a divine person, the Holy Spirit. The Father-Son relationship is the centerpiece of this gospel.
The language of the Trinity draws on the human experience of parents, who are in a way the first representatives of God for us all. But human parents are fallible and can disfigure the face of motherhood or fatherhood. God transcends the human distinction between the sexes: God is neither man nor woman, nor of material substance. No one is father as God is Father. Neither is the Father a father in the way we know human fathers; the Father does not earn a living, for example.
The Father is the origin, point of departure and goal of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. From him come blessing, grace, love, mercy, consolation, and joy. For this reason he must be the addressee of prayer, praise, thanksgiving, and petition. The Father speaks the Word of revelation, and the Son is the content of this revelation (Walter Kasper, The God of Jesus Christ, 142-43).
The name Father is a relation, a relation to the Son whose name is Jesus. We may not name God in terms of function, that is, ‘in the name of the creator, redeemer, and sanctifier.’ Humanly speaking, we do not do this. A person is prior to his or her function. The Father’s name is so powerful that in this name the apostles are made one. Remove the name Father from the Trinity, or substitute another word for it, and the foundation of Christianity collapses.
Ascetic theologians will readily say that the soul is feminine because it receives the seed of life from God. When the Church Fathers called God Father, they meant that there is an amazing intimacy of relationship, that of Father and family, between God the Creator of the universe and ourselves. The New Testament reveals a number of narratives where God acts like a mother, and the most telling of these is that of the Prodigal Son (Lk. 15:11-32). In all these places, God is a mothering father.
The God of the Universe Lives Within
(Column continues below)
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St. Paul compares the Christian to a temple, writing: “Don’t you know that you are temple(s) of God and that God’s Spirit dwells within you?” (1Cor 3:16) In his treatise “On the Holy Spirit,” St. Basil (d 379), says it this way: “The Father, as the Divine Poet, speaks the Word, the eternal Son, perfect, true, good and beautiful. The Spirit is the Breath of the Word spoken by the Father.” This God whom Christians invoke as Father, Son, and Spirit invites us to participate in this Trinitarian love. One way is through prayer. One is the Doxology; another is: ‘Father, give me the Spirit through Jesus your Son.’ Both prayers can be prayed on a crowded bus or subway, in a supermarket or in an airport, in the shower, in a hospital, and at other times of the day. In this way the Trinity becomes central to the Christian’s life. The God of the universe lives within as “this tremendous lover,” as “loveliness supreme,” and as our best friend.