Tag Archives: Trinity

3 August, Traherne IV: the goodness and wisdom of God made manifest.


Two shorter meditations today, 9 and 10, that seem to sit well together. It is worth pondering on the idea that God wants us to enjoy creation ‘sensible of its use and value – in Divine, not financial terms. Laudato Si’!

Is it not easy to conceive the World in your Mind? To think the Heavens fair? The Sun Glorious? The Earth fruitful? The Air Pleasant? The Sea Profitable? And the Giver bountiful? Yet these are the things which it is difficult to retain. For could we always be sensible of their use and value, we should be always delighted with their wealth and glory.

To think well is to serve God in the interior court: To have a mind composed of Divine Thoughts, and set in frame, to be like Him within. To conceive aright and to enjoy the world, is to conceive the Holy Ghost, and to see His Love: which is the Mind of the Father. And this more pleaseth Him than many Worlds, could we create as fair and great as this. For when we are once acquainted with the world, you will find the goodness and wisdom of God so manifest therein, that it was impossible another, or better should be made. Which being made to be enjoyed, nothing can please or serve Him more, than the Soul that enjoys it. For that Soul doth accomplish the end of His desire in Creating it.


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November 15: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xv – ‘What now?’


What has happened thus far is following the maxim: the whole equals the sum total of the parts – whereas the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The implications: the fixed character of reality gives way to a fluid flowing, driven by energies of which we know nothing, which we cannot control. Rational argument doesn’t work anymore – cause and effect do not work as we presumed they did. Creation is relationally friendly. Quantum vision can be summarised: Creation manifests itself; energy exists; time begins; space expands; events are uncertain; only probabilities can be measured; cause and effect are fluid; birth and death happen at the speed of light; information is to be found in energy.

No room here for power-over, only power with. Power games are alien to life. Thirst for control makes no sense, where everything exercises its own sense of control – everything is out of our control. We live in a self-organising universe, which calls for humility on our part, to submit our plans to the greater wisdom of Creation.

How do we see Jesus in this context? Maybe Saint Paul can help: So, from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone the new is here… 2Corinthians 5.16.

Paul is inviting us to regard Jesus differently from the prevailing norms. Christ’s coming has changed all this. All the great religions grapple with our relationship with the divine – but the desire for power gets in the way. The understanding of God as relationship is the oldest humanity has ever known – and from this issue notions of Trinity. Christian history has seen Trinity from a mathematical angle in which the individuality of the persons became more significant than their relatedness. Jesus seen as closer to the Father than to the Spirit – though New Testament has nothing of this.

Jesus belongs to the realm where the whole is greater than the sum total of the parts; he belongs to the whole Creation – he is the primary expression of divine creativity. How Jesus differs from Father and Spirit could well be a meaningless question. The need for a difference is a human patriarchal need, which gets in the way of our befriending God in a Creation-wide way.


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July 3, Readings from Mary Webb, II: Unless latent loves are developed …


We listen, hearing a faint call from afar. It is this sense of mystery – unfading, because the veil is never lifted – that gives glory to the countryside, tenderness to atmosphere. It is this that sends one man to the wilds, another to dig a garden; that sings in a musician’s brain; that inspires the pagan to build an altar and the child to make a cowslip-ball. For in each of us is implanted the triune capacity for loving his fellow and nature and the Creator of them.

These loves may be latent, but they are there; and unless they are all developed we cannot reach perfect manhood or womanhood. For the complete character is that which is in communion with most sides of life – which sees, hears, and feels most – which has for its fellows the sympathy of understanding, for nature the love that is without entire comprehension, and for the mystery beyond them the inexhaustible desire which surely prophesies fulfilment somewhere.

We would not encourage a child to make a cowslip ball today, though there seemed to be an abundance along the motorways this Spring, but that’s not a place to set a child gathering flowers!

Interesting how Mary Webb sees a complete human as having a triune nature, being ‘in communion with most sides of life’, not denying illness, frailty or failing. Let us not exclude the unfading sense of mystery, but be open to our sisters and brothers, our fellow creatures and the One who created all.


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11 June: The Holy Trinity – still a bone of contention!

In an earlier post about the art at Chichester, I discussed some of oldest works in the Cathedral – the Romanesque reliefs depicting scenes from the raising of Lazarus. This post brings us forward, to the twentieth century, and a work which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary last year – the tapestry by John Piper at the high altar. A photograph of the piece is available on the Cathedral’s website.


Known simply as ‘the Piper Tapestry’, this piece was commissioned by Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester (1955-77). As parish priest at St Matthew’s in Northampton, and then as Dean of Chichester, Hussey was a great champion of the arts in the round – commissioning works of art and musical compositions, and inviting figures such as writers to give sermons.


The Piper Tapestry was part of a reordering of the quire in the 1960s. Hussey decided that an injection of colour was needed at the high altar and in 1963 approached Piper to produce a design to adorn the sixteenth-century Sherbourne screen. Hussey insisted that whenever something was added to a church in centuries past, it was executed in the contemporary style, and so it should be in the modern age.


Piper explored a number of different mediums before deciding upon tapestry – a medium which would sit comfortably alongside the screen, but which he could make his own. In fact, the piece consists of seven tapestries, hanging in each of the bays of the screen, which are read as a continuous design. This was Piper’s first work in this medium.


The subject of the tapestry also went through various iterations before the final conception, consisting of symbols of the Trinity (the dedication of the Cathedral) in the central portion, and on either side depictions of the four classical elements (earth, air, fire and water) and the beasts associated with the Evangelists (the man for Matthew, the lion for Mark, the ox for Luke and the Eagle for John). Piper had prepared a version of this scheme by the end of 1964, but at this point Lancelot Mason, Archdeacon of Chichester, raised an objection: in the central portion, Piper had included a Tau cross for the Son, a flame for the Holy Spirit, and a triangle for the Father. Mason objected that the triangle was a symbol of the Trinity and could not represent the Father; Piper would, Mason insisted, need to add another symbol.


Piper was unhappy about this request at a late stage in the process, having felt that the design had reached final form, but eventually he decided to add a white light, in addition to the triangle, giving the composition of elements that we see in the final design.


The tapestries were woven by Pinton Frères in Felletin near Aubusson in central France and installed in 1966. Their dedication took place at Evensong on 20 September. Hussey had certainly achieved his desired injection of colour into the space, but although he was delighted with the result, the public reception was rather mixed.


Both Hussey, and the local press, received numerous letters about the tapestries – some delighting in this bold introduction to the Cathedral interior, but others claiming that it was too garish; some even wrote that they could not take Communion before it. Perhaps the most famous objector was Cheslyn Jones, Canon Chancellor at the Cathedral, who reportedly wore dark glasses to the dedication service.


Fifty years later, in September 2016, the anniversary was marked with a prayer from the dedication service being read at Evensong, which was followed by a talk in which I told the story of the tapestry and shared some contemporary responses to it. The current Chancellor, Anthony Cane, dug out his own dark glasses for the occasion in a nod to his predecessor.


The occasion brought to life the richness of this piece and the regard in which it is held by the Cathedral community; at the end of the talk, I invited the audience to share their own thoughts on the tapestry.


A popular interpretation of the ‘air’ motifs – the most difficult element to depict in visual form – was that there is something of Sputnik I (the first artificial satellite, launched in 1957) in Piper’s choice of forms. Although I have not come across Piper mentioning this inspiration, this interpretation certainly resonates with the era of early space exploration at the time when the tapestry was created.


A memorable impression shared by another person was that the dramatic shard of red background in the central portion of the design can be seen as the opening of the veil in the Temple in Jerusalem, torn in two at the moment of Jesus’ death (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45). This biblical moment represents God’s presence bursting forth into the world, and the speaker who proposed this interpretation of the tapestry felt that the symbols in the central portion seem to burst from the surface of the hangings. Extending this reading to consider the other symbols included in the tapestry, we have a vision of God’s presence embracing all Creation – the world, beasts and humankind.


After fifty (one) years, Piper’s tapestry still feels daring and challenging, and doubtless does not please all. But, to paraphrase a participant in a discussion group I held about the tapestry, Christianity is not safe and wishy-washy, and so the tapestry continues to do important service to the Cathedral.


Further reading


Naomi Billingsley, ‘“A Magnificent Adornment to this House of God”? The Piper Tapestry at 50’, Lecture at Chichester Cathedral (22 September 2016).


Paul Foster (ed.). Chichester Tapestries. Lurçat – Piper – Benker: A Sequence of Exploration (Otter Memorial Paper 7) (Chichester: Bishop Otter College, 1991).


Walter Hussey, Patron of Art: The Revival of a Great Tradition Among Modern Artists (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1985).


Simon Martin, John Piper: The Fabric of Modernism (Chichester: Pallant House Gallery, 2016).


Frances Spalding, John Piper. Myfanwy Piper. Lives in Art (Oxford: OUP, 2009).


A version of this post was published by Transpositions on 23 November 2016. 


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June 3rd: The Uganda Martyrs – Saints for Today II


Modern Martyrs Commemorated at Westminster Abbey: L-R: the Polish Franciscan, Maximilian Kolbe, killed in the concentration camps; Manche Masemola, a South African teenager, murdered by her parents, ‘baptised in her own blood’, for converting to Christianity; and Janani Luwum, Anglican Archbishop of Kampala, Uganda, assassinated by order of President Amin, a modern Uganda martyr. Jean-Christophe Benoist, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:WestminsterAbbey-Martyrs.jpg

How did the Uganda Martyrs come to be Christians? Young men from France and Britain, overflowing with the same love that springs out of the Triune God, had gone there to bring them the Good News about Jesus. Sadly, the two camps did not always see eye to eye and imported to Africa the divisions that the Church in Europe had long taken for granted. Now Pope Francis speaks of the Ecumenism of Blood, in the light of the thousands of modern martyrs of all denominations. This new Unity had been recognised by the Dean and Chapter of Westminster who commissioned the statues of modern martyrs for the facade of the Abbey in 1998.

Both Anglican and Catholic Christians died for the Faith, and as St John Paul II said in Uganda in 1993,

the Uganda Martyrs became light in the Lord! Their sacrifice hastened the rebirth of the Church in Africa. In our own days, all Africa is being called to the light of Christ!  All that is truly African, all that is true and good and noble in Africa’s traditions and cultures, is meant to find its fulfilment in Christ.

Your Martyrs joyfully shared with others the good news about the One who is “the way and the truth and the life” (Jn. 14: 6). They understood that “faith is strengthened when it is given to others” (John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, 2).The effects of Christ’s light must clearly be seen in the goodness of your lives! 

How best can we share the Good News in a very different world to that of Nineteenth Century Uganda? For most of us, most of the time, there are small steps we can take. Doing whatever we can as Churches Together, praying together for unity within and between Churches; looking happy, as though we believe the Gospel is Good News, a friendly word with whoever we meet.

You can find the text of Redemptoris Missio here:  http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_07121990_redemptoris-missio.html

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June 1st – Home is where the Hospitality is.


Whenever my train runs by the flat where Andy and Jenny used to live, darkening the guest room as it passes, I am reminded of their hospitality. They were just starting married life but generously offered me a place to eat well, to crash out, to talk or not to talk, to sing or to watch television together, when too much was going on inside my head and my heart.

There was room in their happiness for other people, embraced by their friendship, their hospitality and their singing. Such love is part of the creative outpouring that the Trinity cannot help but generate. It is indeed like singing or dancing, where you never know quite how the performance is going to unfold. Spontaneous descants and cadenzas flowed from Andy and Jenny’s interpretations of folk and sacred song. So too with creation: no two of us are the same, and even twins grow up different, like the rest of us continually recreated through everyday life experiences.

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31st May: Make Your Home in Me



‘I am the vine … Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.’ This passage from John 15 was the keynote reading for our wedding, thirty-six years ago today.
What has making a home meant in practice? We have our icons and crucifixes to remind us of that promise to make our home in the Lord, but when these become part of the furniture, they could easily be taken for granted.

My wife Janet takes little for granted. She has a constant programme of renewal: the bathroom having been sorted two years ago, our bedroom was decorated last year, the garden is this year’s project. More than mere maintenance, these programmes let her creativity blossom. Some things get moved, and not every member of the family knows where to find them. New shelves are made; the back gate is painted; the garden is given new plants… It can be unsettling or exciting.
Making a home is to join in the work of the Trinity, to create a place for love to flourish. The effects of the love between the persons of the Trinity are unpredictable, at least to mortal minds. We are there in the midst of it all, called by the Lord of the Dance.


– Even in Autumn a vine is beautiful. MMB

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May 28th Personhood VI


Yesterday, we ended with Henri de Lubac’s idea that in the Person of the Son, we are “completed” as persons.  What can he possibly mean by this?  Jesus himself answers the question in the Gospel of St. John by teaching us about the indwelling of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in our hearts:

I shall ask the Father and he will give you another Paraclete to be with you for ever, the Spirit of truth whom the world can never accept since it neither sees nor knows him; but you know him because he is with you, he is in you.  I shall not leave you orphans; I shall come to you….  On that day you will know that I am in my Father and you in me and I in you.   Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father and I shall love him and reveal myself to him.  Anyone who loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him and we shall come to him and make a home in him.

John 14:16ff


Our ‘completion’ as persons is realised only through our share in the very life of the Trinity.  In the Trinity, the divine persons freely give themselves to one another in love.  They do not become the other, but in an eternal dance of love, they ceaselessly give themselves to one another.  To share in this ‘dance’ is to become a person in the deepest sense of the word.  And we can do this through Christ; he, and only he, makes possible for us an interior life shared with himself, the Father and the Holy Spirit.  He gives us a share in his own rich and joyful interior life, a share in his very fullness of being.  ‘I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete.’  This is the true – the truest – realisation of our personhood and our human dignity.  This overflows into all our relationships.  God has created us with a need to be in communion with others.  Henri de Lubac’s words are enlightening:

‘God did not create the world apart from himself, nor did he create souls apart from one another.  In the first place, does not each one need “the other” so as to be awakened into conscious life?  Again, does not to be a person [mean] to enter upon a relationship with others?  The summons to personal life is a vocation.’



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Pope Francis talks about the Trinity of Love



The Eucharist is like the “burning bush” in which the Trinity humbly lives and communicates. MMB.

From Pope Francis’s Angelus address, Sunday, 15 June 2014

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity, which leads us to contemplate and worship the divine life of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit: a life of communion and perfect love, origin and aim of all the universe and of every creature: God. We recognize in the Trinity the model for the Church, in which we are called to love each other as Jesus loved us. Love is the concrete sign that demonstrates faith in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And love is the badge of the Christian, as Jesus told us: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). It’s a contradiction to think of Christians who hate. It’s a contradiction. And the devil always seeks this: to make us hate, because he’s always a troublemaker; he doesn’t know love; God is love!

We are all called to witness and proclaim the message that “God is love”, that God mercylogoisn’t far and insensitive to our human affairs. He is close to us, always beside us, walking with us to share our joys and our sorrows, our hopes and our struggles. He loves us very much and for that reason he became man, he came into the world not to condemn it, but so the world would be saved through Jesus (John 3:16-17). And this is the love of God in Jesus, this love that is so difficult to understand but that we feel when we draw close to Jesus. And he always forgives us, he always awaits us, he loves us so much. And we feel the love of Jesus and the love of God.

The Holy Spirit, gift of the Risen Jesus, conveys divine life to us and thus lets us enter into the dynamism of the Trinity, which is a dynamism of love, of communion, of mutual service, of sharing. A person who loves others for the very joy of love is a reflection of the Trinity. A family in which each person loves and helps one another is a reflection of the Trinity. A parish in which each person loves and shares spiritual and material effects is a reflection of the Trinity.

True love is boundless, but it knows how to limit itself, to interact with others, to respect the freedom of others. Every Sunday we go to Mass, we celebrate the Eucharist together and the Eucharist is like the “burning bush” in which the Trinity humbly lives and communicates; for this reason the Church placed the feast of Corpus Domini after that of the Trinity.

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trinity window, Berwick-on-Tweed (610x640)

Were we going to mark the Feast of the Trinity with Love, Hope and Joy, as advocated by T, Alfie and Ajax in their summing up yesterday, or with a head-scratching examination of the doctrine of three Persons in one God as illustrated by this window from Berwick-upon-Tweed parish church?

One night I lay in my bed – I was 11 years old – and worked out the doctrine of the Trinity to my satisfaction. Naturally, come the morning, I’d completely forgotten my train of thought! Forgot it, forget it!

The Trinity is rather an expression of love, as Pope Francis reminds us.


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February 15th – The Likeness of God.

strasbg.harrowhell (505x394)

Christ leads Adam and Eve to Paradise at Easter. The artist has given them a family likeness! Strasbourg Cathedral, MMB.

In Genesis when we read, “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them,” we can be left wondering, how both male and female can be “in the likeness” of the creator. The explanation comes through one of God’s greatest gifts to man; marriage.

Just as the three persons of the single Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are consubstantial (three separate persons, but being of the same essence), both male and female in creation and in their joining shows their relationship, like the persons of the Holy Trinity, is consubstantial.

The consubstantial relationship of the Holy Trinity cannot be broken. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. Each has always been God, and each will always be God, yet each are distinctly different persons.

Scripture tells us the sexes, male and female, were created by God, as consubstantial beings, when “the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman”, making the two of the same essence. So now just as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one God, male and female are one body. And, like the consubstantial relationship of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, neither can this relationship between male and female, as husband and wife, be broken. Christ put it best when he forcefully proclaimed, “Therefore what God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”



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