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Saturday, June 17, 2017

With Dorothy Sayers at Evensong: Trinity Sunday 2017


With Trinity Sunday now past, I post this reflection from the Choral Evensong.

It is common for clergy to dread Trinity Sunday and the sermon that is required; equally I suspect the dread may be shared by the congregations that will listen. 

You may recall that one of the characteristics of discussions about the Trinity is how we are frequently drawn into the game to find analogies that help us to comprehend what otherwise seems bizarre and incomprehensible.  So drawn from common human experience one of the analogies has been water: the common element is H2O but there are three distinct forms – water, ice and steam.  I suspect Trinity Sunday sermons are dotted with illustrations of that kind.  I am not convinced that such analogies help but we tend to look for them.

One of the best analogies was proposed by Augustine who saw a human analogy, what we call the psychological analogy, and he spoke of the human soul comprising memory, understanding and will – and in this, he found a psychological analogy with the Holy Trinity.

In 1937 detective novelist Dorothy Sayers, the author of the Peter Wimsey Crime novels, wrote a play for the Canterbury Festival (about the building of the Cathedral) called The Zeal of Thy House.  At the end, the angel St Michael makes this speech:


“Praise him that hath made man in his own image, a maker and a craftsman like Himself, a little mirror of his triune majesty.
For every work of creation is threefold, an earthly trinity to match the heavenly.
First: there is the Creative Idea; passionless, timeless, beholding the whole work complete at once, the end in the beginning; and this is the image of the Father.
Second: there is the Creative Energy, begotten of that Idea, working in time from the beginning to the end, with sweat and passion, being incarnate in the bonds of matter, and this is the image of the Word.
Third: there is the Creative Power, the meaning of the work and its response in the lively coul; and this is the image of the indwelling Spirit.
And these three are one, each equally in itself the whole work, whereof none can exist without other; and this is the image of the Trinity.”

Sayers has drawn upon Augustine’s analogy but shifted the analogy from the human person to the human work.  As a writer Sayers speaks from her experience of creation and for anyone who has known that creative energy, that moment … which may simply begin with something like “I have this idea for a book”.


For the artist there is no real peace until moment is brought to completion and we realise that this creative energy images the life of God in us and that we are collaborators with God in such work – as Paul hints …  (Romans 8)

"19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God."

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