Calvin the Destroyer

Here we are again—the Trinity! This week is Trinity Sunday. Just a few months ago during lent, we talked about the Mystery of the Trinity. The basic gist of the sermon was that the doctrine of the Trinity wasn’t the important part, and having an orthodox understanding of the Trinity isn’t the point. The point of the Trinity is that we cannot understand God without relationship. God is interrelated and sets the example for us of how to be in community.


What is perhaps slightly amusing about all of this is the fact that the Trinity may in fact be one of the doctrines of the church that has caused the most division within the body of Christ. For example, the Great schism between Western and Eastern Christianity that happened in 1054 had many of its roots in a disagreement about whether the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son or just from the Father. To us, that doesn’t sound like a particularly important distinction, but believe me when I say that wars were fought over this! The city of Constantinople was destroyed by Western Crusader armies over this!


Perhaps just as awful, our forbearer of the Presbyterian faith John Calvin was so strict on his Trinitarian Doctrine that he had Michael Servetus burned at the stake for having a non-Trinitarian understanding of God. As brutal as that sounds, there are some redeeming elements of Calvin’s…ahem…enthusiasm for the Trinity.


Calvin was very thoughtful about the Spirit, and frankly, he was quite creative and even contemplative—I know, not what we usually think of as Calvin. Perhaps most beautifully, is John Calvin’s Doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Calvin actually thought we had 6 senses, the usual ones (Sight, hearing, tasting, feeling, smelling), plus one very special one THE SENSUS DIVINITATUS! (Doesn’t it sound like a spell from Harry Potter? Don’t worry, it won’t turn you into a Newt) Anyway, Calvin thought that one way the Spirit works through us is via this Sensus Divinitatus—our sense of the Divine. The idea is that we actually have a special ability to discern where God’s Spirit is at work in the world, especially when it comes to the reading of scripture. Calvin was adamant that the scripture isn’t actually the Word of God until the Spirit activated our Sensus Divinitatus and opened us up to what the Word of God had to say to us. That is part of the reason we always pray a prayer of Illumination before reading scripture—we are calling on the Holy Spirit to flip the switch on our Sesnsus Divinitatus. What’s more, since each of us unique snowflakes has that special sense, the Spirit might activate it in slightly different ways for each of us.


Thinking of the Spirit in this way, and thinking of Christ sending the Spirit to us in this way, has some profound implications for us. It is not only in the reading of scripture that the Spirit helps us to interpret the world, but in ALL things. Of course, like any other skill or ability, it takes times patience and practice to hone. Only through prayer do we sharpen this sense so that we are better able to see God at work in our midst.


This week, the passage for Trinity Sunday focuses on God and/or Christ (depending on whether you are an Eastern or Western Christian) sending the Holy Spirit, and the great meaning that we can find in the world by listening to the Spirit and connecting with God in Christ. In other words, we are talking about honing our Sensus Divinitatus’s (Sensei Divinitatae?). See you Sunday.

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