Some thoughts on Richard Norris’s “Trinity” in The Holy Spirit: Classical and Contemporary Readings.

Christians do not “worship” the Trinity in the sense that they stand, as it were, off from it and gawk reverently from a safe distance. On the contrary, their worship is a kind of participation in the relations among the members of the Trinity. Otherwise, what is to be made of the words of one reasonably representative eucharistic prayer, which has believers ascribe “all honor and glory” to God the Father “through Christ and with Christ and in Christ” and “in the unity of the Holy Spirit” (20-1)?

Norris goes on to discuss how the baptism of Christ, especially for Irenaeus, forms the basis of early Trinitarian thinking. The scene recorded in all four Gospels is the perfect image of the Trinity “doing its thing” (23). According to the earliest Christians, this specific narrative depiction shows that the work of the Trinity is not hermetically sealed within the relations of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; rather, it extends to all humanity and creation. This begins with Jesus’s baptism. States Norris:

What Irenaeus says about the baptism of Jesus, however, indicates what is to be the fruit of Christ’s work. It is the lifting-up of human beings into the life of God, their “sharing through grace” – not merely or even primarily as individuals but as a common body – in the identity and the destiny of Christ (23-4).

On the basis of baptism it’s clear that participation is not some supererogatory category imposed upon the message of the Gospel, but derives from it. This is especially the case in the letters of Paul. On the basis of Gal. 3 and 1 Cor. 12, Norris writes that, “The baptism that disciples receive dresses them up, collectively and individually, as Christ. It so identifies them with him that other identities, ethnic identities, for example, or gender identities, tend to have their importance discounted” (24). So strong was this identification with Jesus’s identity through the grace of baptism that Irenaues could refer to Christians as “gods” (24). The only people scandalized by such a view were the Gnostics and the later Neo-Arians.