I have a fun poem for today! At least, it’s my idea of fun.
I grew up reading the Nicene Creed every Sunday at church.
If you haven’t heard that term, ‘creed’ is from the Latin ‘I believe.’ The Nicene Creed is a statement of consensus that was first agreed by the church in AD 325 (in Nicaea — hence the name) and was developed further afterwards, particularly in AD 381. That’s when the doctrine of the Trinity was formally established in the church.
What we now call the Nicene Creed is a very ecumenical and authoritative statement of faith, being accepted by the Roman Catholic church, Orthodox churches (if we leave out one word), many Protestant churches and the Anglican Church, and it’s embedded in many liturgies.
So, growing up, I was familiar with what the creed said about the Trinity. What I didn’t know, was why exactly the creed was written the way it is. I learned that years later, when I read The Rise and Fall of the Complementation Doctrine of the Trinity, by Rev Kevin Giles. CBE International review it on their website.
Giles wrote his book to explain how a certain heresy gained traction in Reformed churches for thirty years (crashing to the ground in 2016), but the last chapter is a lovely summary of how the doctrine of the Trinity was developed. The doctrine is not something you can find directly in the Bible; instead it is the product of years of collective contemplation that takes seriously the language and judgements made by the biblical authors.
I thought I had lost our copy of Giles’ book, but it turns out I hadn’t! Today’s poem is a summary of that chapter and, by extension, the Nicene Creed. It’s (sort of) a list poem and the eighth and penultimate one in this series.
(And don’t worry if you don’t remember all the words!)
A list poem on the Trinity
Here’s a list of words you didn’t know you needed,
Important words, doctrinal terms,
(And most of them are creeded!)
We say that God is Trinity
Not solely in economy
(That’s a fancy word for history)
But also in eternity.
God is not one with different forms,
Instead, self-differentiation is the norm.
Eternally, relationally and ontologically
God is Three.
So we say, ‘Father, Holy Spirit, Son.’
These three persons are not made
But made of the same stuff.
That’s ‘homoousios’ for the theology buff.
‘Of the same being and nature’ —
That’s the thesis,
And their mutual indwelling
Is called ‘perichoresis’.
They create together, baptise together,
Judge, rule and save together.
They bless in union, minister in union,
Elect speak and commission in union.
With many names, but just one Name,
Each is God
And each is Lord.
Many crowns, but just one reign,
One throne, one will
And one accord.
Still, there’s order in their operations,
Taxis within their divine relations.
The Father creates through the Son
And reconciles through the Son,
Pours out the Spirit through the Son,
Like, everything, is through the Son.
We come to the Father through the Son,
We glorify God through the Son,
It’s not odd that it’s through the Son
Because, monogenes, there’s only one,
And the Father and the Son are one.
There’s that word again.
All three persons are uncreated
But the Son is eternally generated.
So the Father, uniquely, is of none.
Of the Father, is his begotten Son.
Of the Father and Son,
Is the Spirit who proceeds—
And I’ll spare you a lecture on the history of the creeds.
This order doesn’t mean there’s a hierarchy
(Remember, we see through a mirror darkly!)
All three are co-equal
In authority and power,
It’s just there’s a sequel
Where for us and for our
Salvation the Son came in subordination—
Taking the form of a servant.
Yes, the Son, the eternal Word
Was born in flesh, grew, bled and died,
Unjustly tried and crucified,
But the Father raised him up to life.
And now having defeated death
He will never die.
And there are many more words
I could give along these lines.
But as for the doctrine of the Trinity,
It’s a contemplated product of church history.
There is no ending of its brain-bending twists,
But this is the end of my didn’t-need-to-know list.
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