Holy, Holy, Holy!

Yesterday was Trinity Sunday, traditionally the beginning of Trinitytide in the Anglican Church. Trinity Sunday is one of the days on the liturgical calendar that I look forward to with joy and dread. I look forward with joy because I love hearing about the Trinity. (I wish more was made of all three persons of the Godhead more consistently throughout the church year.) I love singing trinitarian hymns like Saint Patrick’s Breastplate. I love the Te Deum at the end of the service. It’s like a suggestion of a glimpse of Isaiah’s vision. I look forward to Trinity Sunday with dread as I’m too often disappointed. I’m usually disappointed by overly sentimental hymnody, or by the preacher saying something like “I don’t really know how to explain the Trinity,” or by not getting to hear the Athanasian Creed used in church.

It’s so easy to slip into sentimentality. It’s not that one should be without feeling, but the tendency to sentimentalism can be distracting. It can draw one away from the True, or the truly Beautiful.  Perhaps one of the things I have against sentimentalism is that I’m so easily drawn to it. I’m so easily duped into thinking that something that plucks my heartstrings is actually deep. There is a popular Catholic song that many catholics use as well. this song is based on the last verse of yesterday’s Old Testament reading:

1 In the yeere that King Uzziah died, I saw also the Lord sitting vpon a throne, high and lifted vp, and his traine filled the Temple. 2 Aboue it stood the Seraphims: each one had sixe wings, with twaine he couered his face, and with twaine hee couered his feete, and with twaine hee did flie. 3 And one cryed vnto another, and sayd; Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hostes, the whole earth is full of his glory. 4 And the posts of the doore moued at the voyce of him that cryed, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 ¶ Then sayd I; woe is me; for I am vndone, because I am a man of vncleane lippes, and I dwell in the midst of a people of vncleane lippes: for mine eyes haue seene the king, the Lord of hostes. 6 Then flew one of the Seraphims vnto mee, hauing a liue-cole in his hand, which hee had taken with the tongs from off the altar. 7 And he laide it vpon my mouth, and sayd, Loe, this hath touched thy lippes, and thine iniquitie is taken away, and thy sinne purged. 8 Also I heard the voyce of the Lord, saying; Whom shall I send, and who will goe for vs? Then I saide; Heere am I, send me.

“Here I Am, Lord,” Ach! How many congregations were treated to singing this? How many choirs, how many soloists of all ages performed this to much applause? (The question of applause in church is another topic for another day, but let me just say, unless you’re giving God your applause it doesn’t seem quite appropriate. Church is not the theater, after all.) There is dreadful awe in the reading from Isaiah. There is Kingdom, Power and Glory, but not sentiment. Sentiment is cheep, and not something I associate with God. Martin Luther wrote a hymn after this reading: a simple statement capturing the sublime experience of the prophet without pandering to sentiment.

Compare Here I Am, Lord with Isaiah, Mighty Seer, in Days of Old.

Here I Am, Lord

I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard My people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin,
My hand will save.
I who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear My light to them?
Whom shall I send?

Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if You lead me.
I will hold Your people in my heart.

I, the Lord of snow and rain,
I have born my peoples pain.
I have wept for love of them,
They turn away.
I will break their hearts of stone,
Give them hearts for love alone.
I will speak My word to them,
Whom shall I send?

Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if You lead me.
I will hold Your people in my heart.

I, the Lord of wind and flame,
I will tend the poor and lame.
I will set a feast for them,
My hand will save
Finest bread I will provide,
Till their hearts be satisfied.
I will give My life to them,
Whom shall I send?

Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if You lead me.
I will hold Your people in my heart.

Isaiah, Mighty Seer

Isaiah, mighty seer, in days of old
The Lord of all in spirit did behold
High on a lofty throne, in splendor bright,
With flowing train that filled the temple quite.
Above the throne were stately seraphim;
Six wings had they, these messengers of Him.
With twain they veiled their faces, as was meet,
With twain in reverent awe they hid their feet,
And with the other twain aloft they soared,
One to the other called and praised the Lord:
“Holy is God, the Lord of Sabaoth!
Holy is God, the Lord of Sabaoth!
Holy is God, the Lord of Sabaoth!
Behold, His glory filleth all the earth!”
The beams and lintels trembled at the cry,
And clouds of smoke enwrapped the throne on high.

Perhaps the audio comparison wasn’t fair. Daniel O’Donnel’s rendition of Dan Schutte’s song compared to Michael Praetorious’s setting of Martin Luther’s hymn, in German, whether you like classical music or not, puts the two songs in rather different leagues. Since that seems a bit unfair, how about this:

compared to this:

I used to attend a Lutheran church where  the song Here I Am, Lord was sung often and with great import which always seemed to highlight its inadequacies.  Even in a paired down version  Holy, Holy, Holy holds more than Here I Am, Lord.

The post-church discussion over brunch was the sermon. I felt that the sermon walked awfully close to the line of the “I can’t really explain the Trinity” type of sermon. Really the Rector of the church I attend is a much better preacher than to give that kind of sermon, but he did talk about the Trinity as a mystery that is ever deepening, continually revealing itself. That is, of course, true, and the more one understands about the Trinity the more there is to understand, but…

Perhaps it’s just me, but I’ve always found the Athanasian Creed to be a sufficient explanation of the Trinity. It is all presented in a simple and understandable form:

Quicunque Vult

Whosoever would be saved needeth before all things to hold fast to the catholic faith.
Which faith except a man keep hole and undefiled, without doubt he will perish eternally.

Now the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity;
Neither confusing the Persons, nor dividing the substance.
For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, another of the Holy Ghost;
But the Godhead of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one: the glory equal the majesty co-eternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and Such the Holy Ghost.
The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, the Holy Ghost uncreated;
The Father infinite, the Son infinite, the Holy Ghost infinite;
The Father eternal, the Son eternal, the Holy Ghost eternal.
And yet there are not three eternals, but one eternal.
Also there are not three uncreated, nor three infinites, but one infinite, and one uncreated.
So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, the Holy Ghost almighty;
And yet there are not three almightys, but one almighty.
So the Father is God, the Son God, the Holy Ghost God;
And yet there are not three Gods, but one God.
So the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, the Holy Ghost Lord.
For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to confess each Person by himself to be both God and Lord;
So are we forbidden by the catholic religion to speak of three Gods or three Lords.
The Father is made of none, nor created, nor begotten.
The Son is of the Father alone: not made nor created, but begotten.
The Holy Ghost is of the Father and the Son: not made nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
There is therefore one Father not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.
And in this Trinity there is no before or after: no greater or less;
But all three persons are co-eternal together, and co-equal.
So that in the ways aforesaid, both the Trinity is to be worshiped in Unity and the Unity in Trinity.
He therefore that would be saved let him thus think of the Trinity.

Furthermore it is necessary to eternal salvation that he also believe faithfully the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is both God and man.
He is God of the substance of the Father, begotten before all worlds: and he is man, of the substance of his Mother, born in this world;
Perfect God: perfect man, of reasoning soul and human flesh subsisting;
Equal to the Father as touching Godhead: less than the Father as touching his manhood.
Who although he be God and man, yet he is not two but one Christ;
One however not by conversion of Godhead into flesh: but by taking manhood into God;
One altogether: not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person.
For as reasoning soul and flesh is one man: so God and man is one Christ;
Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again from the dead;
Ascended into heaven, sat down at the right hand of the Father: from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
At whose coming all men must rise again with their bodies: and shall give account of their own deeds.
and they that have done good will go into life eternal: they that have done evil into eternal fire.

This is the catholic faith, which except a man do faithfully and steadfastly believe, he cannot be saved.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end.

It would seem that anyone finding this explanation incomprehensible, anyone who found more doubt than comfort in the creed could find comfort in the understanding that, as Paul Tillich says, doubt is not contrary to, but rather an element of faith.

I suppose my dread of Trinity Sunday was unfounded. The music was inspiring without being sentimental. The preacher did not take the easy way out and preach on Isaiah’s call, but actually said something substantial about the Trinity. I guess the only thing missing was the Quicunque vult. I’m sure you’re thinking that the Athanasian Creed is not properly used in the principal mass of Trinity Sunday, and you’re correct. It should not replace the Nicene Creed, but wouldn’t it make for a beautiful Offertory? I can hear it now.

Te Deum in F by John Ireland


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