The mystery of the Trinity is celebrated liturgically and devotionally in the Church constantly. It is contained in that most profound prayer, the Sign of the Cross, which Lutherans are taught to pray upon waking, and when going to bed each day. This mystery is foundational to Christology, to the Paschal Mystery, to the Church's self understanding, to the sacraments, the scriptures, and to virtually every dimension of the Church's faith, life, and prayer.
This means that we could discuss the Trinity in manifold ways, and we should. It also might beg the question as to just why the Church needs a specific feast devoted to the Trinity. Indeed, the Church had no such feast for many centuries. It was the Carolingian era that brought about a number of developments which ultimatley led to the institution of a feast of the Holy Trinity in the latin Rite. It was Alcuin who, in the eighth century, wrote a Mass celebrating the Holy Trinity of Persons in the One Divine Essence. Alcuin was probably urged to do so by St. Boniface, the great evangelist of the German people. In 920, the bishop of Liege, Stephen, commissioned the writing of an Office for the Holy Trinity. The feast gained in popularity in many dioceses and countries, until finally the Roman Church, under John XXII, instituted it as a feast for the entire Latin Church in 1334.
This is just a little taste of the history involved in the rise of this great liturgical feast, yet there are a number of lessons we can draw from it. One is that this feast is a product of our Medieval heritage. Very common is the notion today that we ought to go back to the practice of the early Church. It is what I would call a crass ressourcement which ignores the richness and continuity of the Church's tradition. We see it in the thinking of many of the "liturgical experts" entrusted with the creation of the Novus Ordo in the 60s, men like Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, and his associates. We see it in the Lutherans who have been slavishly immitating such thinking ever since it became popular in the Roman Church a generation ago. Think of what such an approach would mean in this case. It would mean giving up the rich liturgical tradition of a feast which offers so much to the Church, doxologically and catechetically.
We needn't fear, however, merely that one day the antitraditionalist zeitgeist will lead to the end of the feast of the Holy Trinity. That is not really my concern. I suspect, in fact, that the traditionalist mindset, which is, thankfully, inherent in man, will preserve in the Church this feast. What I would suggest, though, is that we pause and take a look at how we have let our practice deteriorate over time.
For example, consider the great Athanasian Creed. The authoritative collection of Lutheran Symbolical writings, the Book of Concord, calls the Athanasian Creed one of the three "Ecumenical" creeds. It is true, as some are quick to point out, that this creed is not part of the tradition of the Eastern Church. Nonetheless, the Athanasian Creed far surpasses the value of the countless personal or local creeds that risen risen through the centuries. It unites Christians (who have come to know and love it) in a clear articulation of the mysteries of the Holy Trinity and of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. It would be helpful to remember that the Book of Concord also calls it a "Catholic" creed (it even uses, say it ain't so, a capital 'C'). The Athanasian, along with the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds, are designated, "Tria Symbola Catholica seu Oecumenica."
This creed is virtually nonexistent today in the modern Roman Rite. It exists there, but is hardly ever dusted off. Most of the lay people certainly never get any exposure to it. It is something for which we can be thankful, that in the Lutheran Church the Athanasian Creed forms part of the common worship on Trinity Sunday each year, even though a liturgical purist like me would point out that it really does not belong in the Mass. It's true home is in the Divine Office. The Divine Office itself has suffered greatly through the liturgical "developments" of the last century. I would call them 'erosions.' And with the Office, the Athanasian Creed has fallen off of its previously prominent place in the Church's prayer. Before 1911, the Latin Rite included the Athanasian Creed in its Office at the hour of Prime on not only Trinity Sunday, but indeed, every Sunday after Pentecost, as well as the Sundays after Epiphany.
Just consider how well our pastors, theologians, teachers, and all of our people, would know this creed if it were prayed that often. Its phrases and formulations would be on our minds, and we would find oursleves quoting it the way we tend to quote the Small Catechism.
For easy access, I give the reader the text of this creed below, with the challenge to pray it often, and even set it to memory. First you will see it in its traditional English version, and then in the Latin. To aid both prayer and learning, I have divided the creed into sixteen 'verses.' My recommendation: start praying it as part of your Sunday morning devotion, before going to mass.
1. Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic faith.
Which faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
2. And the Catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity And Trinity in Unity,
Neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the Substance.
3. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.
4. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost.
The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate.
The Father incomprehensible, the Son
Incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.
The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal.
5. And yet they are not three Eternals, but one Eternal.
As there are not three Uncreated nor three
Incomprehensibles, but one Uncreated and one Incomprehensible.
6. So likewise the Father is almighty,
the Son almighty, and the Holy Ghost almighty.
And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty.
So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. and yet they are not three Gods, but one God.
So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son
Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord. and yet not three Lords, but one Lord.
7. For like as we are compelled by the Christian Verity to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be God and Lord, so we are forbidden by the catholic religion to say, there be three Gods or three Lords.
8. The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten,
The Son is of the Father alone, not made nor created, but begotten,
The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son, neither made nor created nor begotten, but proceeding.
9. So there is one Father, not three Fathers, one Son, not three Sons, one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.
And in this Trinity none is before or after other, none is greater or less than another.
But the whole three Persons are coeternal
Together and coequal, so that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.
10. He, therefore, that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.
Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe faithfully the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
11. For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man;
God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds;
And Man of the substance of His
mother, born in the world;
12. Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.
Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood;
13. Who, although He be God and Man, yet He is not two, but one Christ.
One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking the manhood into God.
One altogether; not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person.
14. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ;
Who suffered for our salvation; descended into hell; rose again the third day from the dead;
He ascended into heaven; He sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God
almighty; from whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
15. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies and shall give an account of their own works.
And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.
16. This is the Catholic faith; which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.
1. Quicumque vult salvus esse, ante omnia opus est, ut teneat Catholicam fidem.
Quam nisi quisque integram inviolatamque servaverit, absque dubio in aeternum peribit.
2. Fides autem Catholica haec est, ut unum Deum in Trinitatem in unitate veneremur.
Neque confundentes personas, neque substantiam seperantes.
3. Alia est enim persona Patris, alia Filii, alia Spiritus Sancti:
Sed Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti una est divinitas, aequalis Gloria, coaeterna maiestas.
4. Qualis Pater, talis Filius, talis Spiritus Sanctus.
Increatus Pater, increatus Filius, increatus Spiritus Sanctus.
Immensus Pater, immensus Filius, immensus Spiritus Sanctus.
Aeternus Pater, aeternus Filius, aeternus Spiritus Sanctus.
5. Et tamen non tres aeterni, ed aeternus.
Sicut non tres increati, nec tres
immensi, sed unus increatus, et unus immensus.
6. Similiter omnipotens Pater, omnipotens Filius, omnipotens Spiritus Sanctus.
Et tamen non tres omnipotens, sed unus omnipotens.
Ita Deus Pater, Deus Filius, Deus Spiritus Sanctus. et tamen non tres Dii, sed unus est Deus.
Ita Dominus Pater, Dominus Filius, Dominus Spiritus Sanctus. et tamen non tres Domini, sed unus est Dominus.
7. Quia, sicut singillatim unamquamque
personam Deum ac Dominum confiteri
christiana veritate compellimur, ita tres Deos aut Dominos dicere catholica religione prohibemur.
8. Pater a nullo est factus, nec creatus, nec genitus.
Filius a Patre solo est, non factus, nec creatus, sed genitus.
Spiritus Sanctus a Patre et Filio, non factus, nec creatus, nec genitus, sed procedens.
9. Unus ergo Pater, non tres Patres, unus Filius, non tres Filii, unus Spiritus Sanctus, Non tres Spiritus Sancti.
Et in hac Trinitate nihil prius aut posterius, nihil maius aut minus.
Sed totae tres personae coaeternae sibi sunt et coaequales. Ita ut per omnia, sicut iam supra dictum est, et unitas in Trinitate, et Trinitas in unitate Veneranda sit.
10. Qui vult ergo salvus esse, ita de Trinitate sentiat.
Sed necessarium est ad aeternam
salutem, ut incarnationem quoque Domini Nostri Iesu Christi fideliter credat.
11. Est ergo fides recta ut credamus et confiteamur, quia Dominus noster Iesus Christus, Dei Filius, Deus et homo est.
Deus est ex substantia Patris ante saecula genitus,
Et homo est es substantia matris in saeculo natus.
12. Perfectus Deus, perfectus homo, ex anima rationali et humana carne subsistens.
Aequalis Patri secundum divinitatem minor Patre secundum humanitatem.
13. Qui, licet Deus sit et homo, non duo tamen, sed unus est Christus.
Unus autem non conversione divinitatis in carnem, sed assumptione humanitatis in Deum.
Unus omnino, non confusione substantiae, sed unitate personae.
14. Nam sicut anima rationalis et caro unus est homo, ita Deus et homo unus est Christua.
Qui passus est pro salute nostra: descendit ad inferos, tertia die resurrexit a mortuis.
Ascendit ad caelos, sedet ad dexteram Dei Patris omnipotentis, inde venturus est iudicare vivos et mortuos.
15. Ad cuius adventum omnes homines
resurgere habent cum corporibus suis, et reddituri sunt de factis propriis rationem.
Et qui bona egerunt, ibunt in vitam aeternam, qui vero mala, in ignem aeternum.
16. Haec est fides Catholica, quam nisi quisque fideliter firmiterque crediterit, salvus esse non poterit.