Images of the trinity

Posted by: Richenda at Friday November 7, 2008 in

I was reading along in my book…homework…Justo L. Gonzales’s +The Story of Christianity+…and I came across this medieval image of the trinity:

(I know, I know. The image is blurry. I used my camera phone, what can I tell you.)

Still, it made me think. On the one hand, I like that the image shows uniformity, in that it is an effort to depict the “three faces” of God—the son, the father, the Holy Spirit—in a way that shows that these three ‘different’ facets are really of the same substance and so are One.

[Note from Gregory of Nyssa: Oh ye Gentiles, laugh if you will. But you thought this up. :) ]

As for me, I find the concept of the Trinity easy to understand. Perhaps it is because I have long loved to gaze at glass prisms. Out of a single ray of sunlight, poured through a single facet of a prism, the light explodes from the rest of the facets like a fountain with a million bits of color. This, to me, isn’t division of light, it’s revelation of light!

It is ironic, then, that what I appreciate so much about this medieval depiction of the “three faces of God,” the uniformity, is also what bothers me about it.

These three faces are all the same. They are all male. And they are all white. And they are all bearded.

[Question for the Divine Barber: These three faces are all bearded… Is God bearded?]

This image is of God as a European and loving familiar. To picture God as part of your immediate world, and in the ‘image’ of the humans you know and interact with, is not a bad thing, it’s a good thing. But we have to always remember that it is we who are thereby limiting God. We depict God in ways that help us to form and understand God. But as for God? God is not limited.

God is not limited to the paint and gesso of the painter, and God is not limited by human conception, either. Images we make of God are supposed to help us to
imagine what God is like. But if we are not careful, they can freeze us in ink. And ink is not God. (Beards are probably not God, either.)

And that begs the question, if God is not limited to what a particular culture in a particular time or place can imagine, what is God? If we risk shaking loose the images of ‘familiar’ and seek to un limit our understanding of God…what happens? How might the Trinity be depicted then? A leaf, a moon beam, and a drop of water? A blue jay feather, a chunk of serpentine, ash? A breath, a tear, a song?

Imagine—just imagine!—the prayer that is God! Just think in what ‘form’ the immanence of Christ ever-circles all around us.

Imagine the Father, Imagine the Spirit, Imagine the Christ manifested in the heart, the feet, the longing in your gut.

What? Be still! God is with you.

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