Dear Brothers and Sisters – Way back sometime in the 4th century B.C., Plato wrote a dialogue called The Symposium. In it, a bunch of friends, including Socrates, are sitting around drinking. One of them says, “Let’s all make a speech about love,” and everybody thinks this is a grand idea. So they go around the table giving speeches. Among the group is Aristophanes, the Greek comedian. He’s a pretty funny guy. So for his speech he tells this story.
Humans were originally built with four legs, four arms, two faces, and so on. They were very strong, and could travel by sticking out their arms and legs and rolling around like a ball. The problem was that they were so strong, they challenged the Gods, Zeus, Apollo, Hera, Athena, that bunch. So the Gods held a council and decided that the humans had to be reduced somehow. So Zeus took his thunderbolt, and struck every human with it, slicing them in two right down the middle. Now they only had two arms and two legs and were not nearly as strong. And Zeus told them, “Watch it, if you act up any more, I’ll cut you in half again, and you’ll be hopping around on one leg!” During all this disruption, the humans were scattered all over the place. Each of them had a deep longing for his or her other half, the half they’d been split from. So they spent their lives looking for this other half. And if by chance they’d find him or her, they immediately slammed together, making themselves one again, with four legs, four arms, etc. and presumably lived happily ever after.
It’s a funny story, but it has some profound meanings. We all have the nagging feeling that we are not complete in ourselves, that we need someone else to be fulfilled as a human being. Some of us have been lucky enough to find “our other half,” as we say, and with love, and some hard work added in, have found contentment in a relationship.
The point is that love needs at least two people, a lover and a beloved. In Aristophanes’ story, there is a third element needed when the two halves of a person come together. They need love, as a glue of sorts, to hold them together. So love isn’t love without two people and the love between them.
We hear the Gospel of John say, “God is love.” Some of us may think that this means that God radiates love, that God is infinitely loving, or that God’s love for us is inexhaustible. These things are true, but that’s not the same as saying “God is love.” Saying “God is love” means that God in God’s self, in God’s very being, before any external object, is love.
This, I believe, is at least one way of looking at the Trinity. As we’ve said, there is no love without two and the love between them. So, within the Trinity we have the Father and the Son, and between them, their love for one another, the Holy Spirit. This love flows between them in a circle, the Father’s love for the Son flowing back from the Son to the Father.
Of course, it’s almost impossible to avoid seeing the Trinity in our poor earthbound imaginations as two people, the Father sitting over there, and the Son sitting opposite gazing fondly at each other, with the Holy Spirit like some kind of sparkly CGI energy in between them, all three wrapped up in a glowing orb. But of course, the reality can’t be like that. There aren’t two or three separate people in the Trinity. They are one in being. We say there are “three persons” in the Trinity, but that’s not much help, because “persons” simply refers back to the Trinity. The Trinity is the only occasion when we use the word “persons” in this sense. We also say that Christ incarnate is one person with two natures, just to confuse things a little more.
Our readings today use the image of being “poured out.” The character of Wisdom in Proverbs is often associated with Christ. The prologue of John’s Gospel makes this connection, the Word, as co-creator. So in our first reading, when Wisdom says “from of old I was poured forth, at the first, before the earth,” we might take this description as applying to the second Person of the Trinity. In the second reading, Paul says, “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” The Holy Spirit too is “poured out.” This image of the persons of the Trinity being a sort of liquid might help to break down our anthropomorphic image of the Trinity, the Father as an old guy with a white beard, the Son looking like our favourite painting of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit as a bird. At least the description of the persons of the Trinity as liquid might help us to realize how indefinable, how indescribable, how strange God actually is.
This image of Persons of the Trinity being poured out brings us to another fundamental trait of God. The love that the persons of the Trinity have for one another is not internal, locked within the Trinity, not something they enjoy for themselves. Instead this love overflows from the Trinity out to creation, and in fact causes creation.
Our first reading today gives us a delightful picture of the relationship between the Father and Wisdom, whom we identify with the Son. They are inseparable. “When the Lord established the heavens I was there.” They are co-workers in the act of creation, “I was beside him as his craftsman.” But this work of creation is not merely work, but a delight. “I was his delight day by day, playing before him all the while, playing on the surface of his earth.” What a great image. The act of creation is an act of play, fun, delightful. “Let’s make a platypus.” “Oh wait, I know, a DUCK-BILLED platypus!” And this same love spills over to us – “I found delight in the human race.” In a sense, the created world is what God’s love for us looks like. And in the created world, we are told that humans hold the highest place in God’s eyes. We are the very manifestation of God’s love for us.
So when scripture says that “God is love,” this means that God is love in itself, that God is pure relationship. There is no division in will between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Christ says, “He will glorify me because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.” What is Christ’s also belongs to the Holy Spirit. He goes on, “Everything that the Father has is mine,” which is to say that what the Holy Spirit takes from the Son also belongs to the Father. In other words, the three Persons share everything with each other. But the point is that this sharing extends to us, to humanity. The Holy Spirt comes to share with us at least some of what the Trinity shares within itself.
We are made in the image of God. We each are little pictures of the Trinity. We all have this image of the Trinity buried deep within us. It has been obscured by our fallen nature, but it is still there. And the love that the Holy Trinity has for us is also meant to overflow, from us. And it does. It overflows in love for each other. The Holy Trinity teaches us that the love between the lover and the beloved naturally overflows beyond the immediate relationship. When we first fall in love, we want to share this love with the world. We have found our other half, as Aristophanes said. But love does not remain static, closed in on itself. Love is creative. As love matures, it bears fruit. For many of us, this means that the love between two people overflows into a family. For others, it means that the love we have inside us reaches out to our brothers and sisters in religious life, and to God directly. Love is creative. By its very nature it reaches out, beyond ourselves. It is what makes us need each other, to know each other, to interact, to relate. It is what makes us human and through Christ’s love for us, it’s what makes us divine.