Judeo-Christian historians brag on the development of a one-god concept, a significant break from the tradition of multiple gods and goddesses roaming the earth and sky, demanding offerings, playing tricks, throwing thunderbolts.
In 325, dueling Christian theologians were brought together by Emperor Constantine the Great. One big stumbling block was Jesus. Was he human or divine? It was complicated. At the First Council of Nicaea an attempt was made to formally establish the doctrine of the triune God. Nontrinitarian writings were condemned, and those inclined to question the Trinity got out of town fast.
Centuries later, Oxford-educated Anglican bishop Reginald Heber (1783-1826) not only endorsed the notion of the Trinity, but wrote “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY! Lord God Almighty!” and dotted his hymn with exclamation points. He also elegantly ended each line with a word that rhymes with holy — almighty, thee, sea, see, mighty, Trinity, be, purity. “Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee … God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”
The name of the hymn tune composed by John B. Dykes is NICAEA for the once prosperous walled city where the doctrine of the Holy Trinity was adopted. The town of Nicaea, now named Íznik, is a tourist destination in Turkey.
A MEDITATION ON THE TRINITY
Some say that the concept of the Holy Trinity is cheating — like having one’s cake and eating it too. One God with three aspects. Aha! Nice trick. Others say that the Blessed Trinity is like a braid. It’s all hair and it’s all there — but if you divide one thick lock of hair into three parts and weave them together, the three sections of hair create something entirely new, beautiful, and strong. They quote Ecclesiastes 4:12, “A cord of three strands is not easily broken.”
At the center of our Trinity mystery is the God-spirit, Creator still creating, a spark of the divine flowing in and around us, merciful and mighty. Jesus, compassionate healer, son, storyteller, establishment-challenging activist, shows us the way to live. And the dancing Holy Spirit breathes through us, ignites our imaginations and pulls us toward our fullest potential and best selves.
Once the Trinity was the excuse for debate, division, and violence. Although still divided, modern Christians have stopped killing each other over this extra-biblical concept.
With Heber’s hymn, we acknowledge that the Sacred is too great for our human minds to grasp. “Though the darkness hide thee … there is none beside thee.” The Trinity is a neat way to manage the awesome mystery. We sing, offering our confusion and our praise, unsure of everything but God’s magnitude and our gratitude.
TO GO DEEPER
“History of Hymns: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty’” by Stanton Nelson, UMC Discipleship Ministries website
A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Karen Armstrong (Goodreads website)