This July column’s theme is “The Rule of Three.” Children’s stories often use this literary device: e.g. The Three Bears, Three Blind Mice, and Three Little Pigs. Some adult jokes, in less politically correct times, began with “An Englishman, Scotsman and Irishman.”
The rhythm of three raises expectations: “Ready, steady ... go!” We cannot escape the number three because its rhythm is vital in oral tradition.
The Holy Bible uses the same rhythmic Rule of Three. The Bible is a work of historical, literary and spiritual genius. There we have another three: historical, literary, spiritual.
In one form or another, the Bible uses the number three, hundreds of times.
Here are a few examples: Noah had three sons; Job had three daughters; Daniel prayed three times a day; Mary visited Elizabeth and stayed for three months; Wise men visited the infant Jesus with their symbolic gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh; Jesus spoke of the Temple being rebuilt in three days; Three times, Jesus asked the Apostle Peter, “Do you love me?”; Jesus was crucified “with two others”; Jesus was “raised on the third day”; when St Paul was shipwrecked he stayed for three months on the island of Malta; St Paul experienced three shipwrecks; He also prayed three times for his “thorn in the flesh” to be taken from him.
Throughout Christianity’s long Trinity Season which, this year, began on June 16th and will end on November 3, attention is given to the Church’s birth, growth and responsibility, governed and inspired by its Lord and Saviour, for the world and all creation.
The word “Trinity”, after which Ripon’s vibrant Holy Trinity Church is named, is not found in the Holy Bible.
Saint Gregory, a fourth century theologian, shaped Christianity’s Trinitarian thinking.
He continues to influence Christians about their relationship to “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”.
Gregory spoke powerfully of his own experience.
He said: “No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the splendour of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish the Three than I am carried back into the One ... When I contemplate the Three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the undivided light.”
The idea of God as Holy Trinity is seen throughout Holy Scripture. Genesis presents God as Creator, Word and Spirit.
Those three elements appear constantly in the writings of both Old and New Testaments. Reputable Bible scholars interpret the account of Jesus’ baptism as revealing the Holy Trinity.
I quote: “When Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water ... he saw the Spirit of God descending ... [A] voice from heaven said: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3.13-17).
Every child or adult brought to Holy Baptism hears the words: “I baptise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
I always hope that the parents, with their selected Godparents or sponsors, are themselves committed to Christ and his Church. Why?
Because Holy Baptism is the point at which, to quote Isaiah, “precious, honoured and loved” Christians begin their growth in holiness; we might say ready and steady to GO, to transform the whole world.