From this pulpit I have a panoramic view of the great cosmati pavement, which was laid down before the High Altar in 1268. It's a spiritual map that speaks to us of the universe and the majesty of our God; even the green porphyry stone contains small crosses within its very structure. Each pattern is a maze of symbolism;rational geometry intertwined with theological meaning representing God,humankind, time and the Universe. At its very centre the orb points us towards eternity as well as the earth.
The surrounding squares remind us of the four fold symmetry of the elements, the seasons, points of the compass, and the humours of the body. The cross centred round a circle calls to mind Christ's sacrifice for the world. The powerful iconography of three reminds us today of the Trinity: Father, Son and HolySpirit, perhaps also symbolising for us the beginning, middle and end, the passage of the soul through time, as, three times three, the nine spheres of the firmament rotate to make heavenly music.
From this pulpit it's also possible to see the recently installed monument to C.S. Lewis, in Poet's Corner. I say this, because when reflecting on Trinity Sunday, it was C. S.Lewis who made the pertinent comment, by reminding us that a doctrine is not God. Rather, a doctrine is more like a map. In the case of the doctrine of the Trinity, it's a map that's based on the experiences of many Christians over a great period of time. What that means is that while the map is far from perfect, most would agree that it is the best map available. So what does this map of the Trinity tell us?
By the end of the 20th century just about all Trinitarian scholars agreed that God is relational. In other words the three persons of the Trinity exist as a holy community engaged with each other and interrelating with each other across time. For example, our God is a social God within God's very being. But this relationality isn't just contained within God. To delve more deeply into God is to delve more deeply into life itself. And as we're essentially social creatures we depend on each other for survival and well-being. In otherwords our humanity can be mapped out in our relationships, both with each other and with God, and indeed with all his creation. This doctrine of the Trinity not only teaches us about how we should shape our lives, it also gives us a clear direction for the best sort of human relationships. These are relationships where individuality is balanced with relationship. The relationship that exists between Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the basis for all our human relationships, not least in marriage, family, or the church.
The American theologian Catherine La Cugna suggests that the doctrine of the Trinity helps us all answer the following question: How can we live and relate to each other in a Godly way? She points towards the doctrine of the Trinity as a theology of relationship, in other words, one which explores the mysteries of love, relationship, personhood and community. Here, she argues, that the best relationships are those of equality and mutuality.
From this perspective Christian worship is very naturally Trinitarian. Blessings are given "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit". In saying the creed,we proclaim the Trinitarian nature of God. At baptism the sacrament is administered "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit". Indeed the Eucharistic Prayer is firmly Trinitarian in concept, asare those great hymns: Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity. Firmly I believe and truly, God is Three,and God is One.
So we see the Trinity expresses how we should relate to God, how weshould worship God the Father, how we should follow the example set by God the Son, how God the Holy Spirit lives in them, and how the Trinity is a map for our lives. In one sense the Cosmati Pavement is just a fascinating collection of rare marbles and gemstones, but in another sense it is an awe inspiring map of divine revelation.
C.S. Lewis used such imagery to explain further how theology is indeed like such a map. In response to a man who found his personal experiences of God in the silence of a desert to be far more meaningful than church dogmas, he tells a wonderful story: If a man looked at the Atlantic from a beach, and then went and looked at a map of the Atlantic, he will be turning from something real to something less real: turning from real waves to a bit of coloured paper. And this is the crucial point. The map is admittedly only coloured paper,but there are two things we have to remember about it.
In the first place, it's based on what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic; and in that way it's based on masses of experience, just as real as the one that could have from the beach. In other words an individual only gets a single glimpse, but the map fits many different experiences together.
In the second place, if you want to go anywhere, the map is absolutely necessary. Now, C.S. Lewis argues that theology is like the map. Doctrines arenot God: they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God. And secondly, if we want to get any further, we must indeed use the map. The experience of the man in the desert may have been real, but nothing comes of it. It doesn't really lead anywhere. In fact, that is probably why a vague religion, all about feeling God in nature, and so on is often so attractive to us.
Its rather like watching the waves from the beach. But the problem is we don't get to the States by studying the Atlantic like that, and we don't find eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music. Neither will we get anywhere by looking at maps without going to sea. Nor will it be very safe if we go to sea without a map.
When we seriously consider the Trinity, we embrace a map of God that has been used by countless generations of faithful Christians. This map lies at the heart of our faith and is at the heart of our understanding of God.