Masaccio’s Trinity

“Holy Trinity” by Masaccio. Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy, c. 1426.

For Trinity Sunday
May 26, 2013

Trinity Sunday is one of my favorite Sundays.  We move on this day from the lectionary season of Easter to the Season After Pentecost, or Ordinary Time.  I prefer the latter term, because it focuses on what this season is rather than what it comes after.  God has invaded our ordinary world which has opened for us the door to the extraordinary, such that our lives will never be the same.

Images are powerful.  Witness the flood of images from yesterday’s devastating tornado in Moore, Oklahoma.  An image can tell a story that words sometimes can’t convey.  One might be able to describe the devastation in Moore, but seeing is believing.   My prayers go out today to all the families impacted, especially the ones who have lost children.  May God’s mercy be seen in how we as his people respond to what has happened.

Just as images can help us understand things horrible so can they help us understand things wonderful such as the Trinity.  One of this week’s art images on Vanderbilt’s Revised Common Lectionary site  is Masaccio’s “Holy Trinity”.  This is a beautiful western Christian iconographic meditation on the reality of and relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Khan Academy provides an insightful analysis of the painting here.  One’s eyes go first to the Father who stands in the center of his creation and presents to us his Son Jesus who has died on the cross to free us from our sin.  But where is the Holy Spirit?  See the collar of the father’s tunic?  It is in the shape of a dove.  All of the paintings orthogonals point to the foot of the cross.  This is the foundation from which we are to understand and relate to the Trinity.  Jesus’ mother Mary and best friend John are close by.  Jesus was a human who walked among us and who enjoyed deep and meaningful relationships while among us.  Our eyes move further downward to the two patrons who are worshipping as we are to worship.  At the very bottom of the painting is a corpse over which is inscribed “What you are, I once was.  What I am, you will be.”  This is an invitation to consider the meaning of life, death, and immortality.

In a culture in which the prevailing image of Christianity is often narrow-mindedness, hypocrisy, and bigotry, this is an image worth sharing.  In a world in which catastrophes such as the Moore Tornado occur this is a place to find healing and hope.  Soli Deo Gloria.

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