While I hold fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist Association, and formerly held unitarian theology, I am a trinitarian Universalist. I can (and have) said the Nicene Creed without bursting into flames or rueing my hypocrisy. There are a few of us, and perhaps to the scandal of the UU rank-and-file, more than would be guessed.
Today is Trinity Sunday and I suppose I should say something, though the emphasis put on the day in Anglophone Christianity is disproportional in a way reminiscent of Channukah celebrations among American Jews. What’s next, God Sunday?
Plus, for a doctrine that is so key to Christian faith, it is notoriously hard to break down according to the Nicene and Chalcedonian creeds without straying into one heresy or another. I suspect most Trinitarians are really Sabellians, from which it is a short bus ride to thorough Unitarianism, or more frequently, functional polytheism. (Sabellianism does quite nicely in the gender-inclusive trine formula of “Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer” which is one good non-misogynistic reason for avoiding it. In case you wondered what the fuss is in places that have brought up the issue.)
In the pulpit, Trinity Sunday tends to take on one of three manifestations in the trinitarian churches:
- Ignore it, and pray Mother’s Day falls on it. Remember to buy roses. No dice this year.
- Use every iota of Greek you have — there’s an Arian joke there for the initiated — and abuse the congregation with how smart you are.
- Get the assistant or a supply preacher to deal with it.
Rare and glorious is the public teacher who treat the people and the matter with respect.
If you’re gung-ho about learning more about the Trinity, might I suggest Catherine M. LaCugna’s God For Us? It is not beach reading.
So read that.
Trinitarian theology evokes this though now (and just in time to get to church): It mitigates against the unfairness of the crucifixion though not the cruelty and gives Jesus Christ a cosmic meaning.
Non-Christians (and most Christians really) need to know that atonement theory — which has gotten some recognition lately in Unitarian Universalism — has ever been a matter of opinion and dispute. There is no single orthodox option for one to rebell against; little wonder that Hosea Ballou began there in his program of Universalist theology.
Even so, in a unitarian system, Jesus comes out as a schmo who was unfairly whacked at the hand or in the service of an indifferent or unfair God. He becomes the martyr above others, but this always has begged “why?” to me. Psychologically, the remedy is to minimize Calvary and make Jesus’ mission (“his teachings”) primarily moral. From there, Christianity rests on an exclusively moral foundation, and that’s easily coopted by dominant-culture ethics. Jesus becomes the flagbearer of the Good, who is easily accepted or dismissed.
(Evangelicals, however orthodox, do little better when treating Calvary as a near-mechanical way of getting their ticket stamped — but that’s for another time.)
Jesus Christ is not Hektor defending Troy, Polydorus betrayed, or young Polyxena slain in sacrifice upon Achilles’s tomb. (At this point I should mentioned Hubby, Peacebang and I spent a too-brief night at the Kennedy Center watching the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Hecuba. Vanessa Redgrave played the lead of this new version by Tony Harrison. Watch it if you can.) He is not a tragic figure subject to fate and indifferent divinities.
Jesus Christ is God, and by endowing our humanity with his deity, we share with him the mutually-enveloping relationships with the Father and the Holy Spirit, leading to communion and everlasting life.