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Thought for the Week – 26th May 2024

Many Faced

Being two-faced is not usually a compliment. However, the truth is that I wear a number of faces; at work, dealing professionally with colleagues and students; as a vicar, trying to help someone; with friends, relaxing. That leaves aside the faces people see when I am irritated, frustrated or in a bad temper. They are all part of me; I hope in all them there is some integrity, a link with what I am really like, or what I would like to be. But my face, my personality does change according to the circumstances.

One of the big challenges facing the early church was to make sense of a God who they saw in different ways. There was the God who Jesus called “father”; there was Jesus himself who in some way appeared as the son of God and then there was a force that inspired them, variously called the Spirit of God or the Spirit of Jesus. And when people looked, they thought they could see traces of these three in the Old Testament as well. They were convinced that there was just one God; that was the message of the Old Testament, but how to be also true to these three versions of the one God who they now also saw revealed?

From this came the idea of the Trinity; one God but with three faces or aspects that we can see; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And one of the keys to unlocking this came from classical Greek theatre. Maybe it was after a good night out watching “The Mousetrap” (or equivalent) that one of the Cappadocian Fathers had an idea. The actors wore masks to show the different sides of their nature; angry, happy, sad and so forth. The mask was called the persona and within the Trinity, God has different faces, or persona which show different aspects of her/his nature. And so we sing “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty… God in three persons, Blessed Trinity!” And, as a byproduct, the church gave to humanity the idea that we have our own personality, as a theatrical term adapted for theology quickly became a very useful concept for understanding ourselves.

Rev David Poyner