On the wall in my study I have a Royal School of Church Music certificate I was given as a youngster when I was admitted as a Chorister. It has printed on it the prayer known by many – the ‘Daily prayer for choristers’. In the prayer are the words ‘... grant that what we sing with our lips, we may believe in our hearts, and what we believe in our hearts we may shew forth in our lives...’
Today is Trinity Sunday, when we should spend some time reflecting upon the mystery of our faith which is the Holy Trinity. All too often we try to understand this mystery of faith by attempting to define just who and what each person of the Trinity is. Today I would like to suggest to you that one of the ways in which we know the Holy Trinity is through what we sing with our lips. Our Trinitytide hymns give us a way in which we can understand, not necessarily with our minds but with our hearts, the mystery which is the Holy Trinity.
Last Sunday I mentioned that important Whitsun hymn ‘Veni Creator Spiritus’ or ‘Come Holy Ghost our souls inspire...’ The last verse of that hymn has the words, ‘Teach us to know the Father, Son, and thee, of both to be but one; that through the ages all along this may be our endless song, “Praise to thy eternal merit, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”’
The Holy Trinity is a doctrine of the faith that we know through the operation of the Holy Spirit. We know for one reason and that is so we might praise God. We are given this endless song of praise for the three in one and one in three so that we might do that for which God has created us – to be His people of praise and worship.
Another Trinity hymn, usually sung to the tune Capetown, has the final verse: ‘Three in one and one in three, dimly here we worship thee; with the saints hereafter we hope to bear the palm’. Whilst our worship here on earth can often be described as something that is done ‘dimly’, we know that our efforts are joined with those of the angels and saints and are thus acceptable at the throne of Grace.
Blessed John Henry Newman gave us, amongst others, the hymn ‘Firmly I believe and truly...’ In it he underlines what I have just said when he writes, ’Adoration ay be given with and through the angelic host, to the God of earth and heaven, Father, Son and Holy Ghost.’ In the second line of the hymn we make a definite confession of faith when we sing, ‘God is three and God is one’.
In these well loved hymns there is no attempt made to explain the trinity or the nature of God. It is taken as a given that God is the Holy Trinity and we but have to worship him. As St Athanasius said in the Quicunque Vult – what we know as the Athanasian Creed – the Father is incomprehensible, the Son is incomprehensible and the Holy Ghost is incomprehensible. Despite this we know our God not as three Gods but as one God. This God of Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped. The Athanasian Creed ends with the marvellous statement: This is the Catholic faith; which, except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.
In chapter 6 of the prophecy of Isaiah a vision of the glory of God is described. We know it well. It begins with ‘In the year that King Uzziah died’. Richard Mant, who became a Bishop in Ireland from 1820 until 1848, seems to have been a prolific writer and translator of hymns, and also compiled a History of the Church of Ireland. He used the vision contained in this portion of Scripture as the basis of another well known hymn ‘Bright the vision that delighted’. This hymn ends with the following two verses:
With His seraph train before him,
With His holy Church below,
Thus unite we to adore Him,
Bid we thus our anthem flow.
“Lord, Thy glory fills the Heaven;
Earth is with its fullness stored;
Unto Thee be glory given,
Holy, holy, holy Lord.”
On the feast of Whitsun we gave thanks for the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the church; today we worship our Triune God; the God whose glory fills the heaven; the God whose creation surrounds us, and indeed of which we are a part. Our response to the wonder of that can only be ‘Unto Thee be glory given, Holy, holy, holy Lord.’
May God bless you as you give the amen to his praise!