The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. (Rom 8:16-17)
The most famous paintings of the Holy Trinity theme depict Jesus Christ crucified or recently lowered from the cross. Botticelli, Durer, Castagno, etc. portray Jesus in the passion of His crucifixion flanked by the Father shown as an older bearded man. Rubens and El Greco paint Jesus just taken down from the Cross – and dead – as in Pieta scenes, except that in these Trinity images the divine Son rests not in the arms of Mary His mother, but God His Father. Even those Trinity paintings presenting Jesus in glory at the right hand of the Father still show Him with pierced hands and feet (e.g. Baldung). What recurs through all these Holy Trinity renderings is the suffering Christ.
There are many other ways the Holy Trinity might have been presented. Jesus might have been painted as a young boy with his Father, say, holding a dove. It is interesting to consider that Nativity-topic paintings are not used to depict the Blessed Trinity, where the artist might have painted the Father skirting the barn or manger just as he does the cross in common Trinity works. Even works narrating the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River (which picture also the Father and the Holy Spirit) are entitled “Baptism of Jesus” and not “Holy Trinity”.
Thus, there appears to be a tacit tradition which developed (at least since the medieval era) of rendering “Jesus the accomplished” in Holy Trinity artwork. The Jesus that most appears in Trinity depictions is Jesus the Redeemer: either accomplishing our redemption on the Cross or, after being taken down from Cross after declaring “It is finished” (Jn 19:30).
In order to further illuminate this point, we have placed on our bulletin cover for this Holy Trinity Sunday, a work by the pioneering Flemish painter, Robert Campin, entitled simply Holy Trinity (1433). This is an unusual selection for us because it is not a painting but a tapestry which would have been devised by Campin yet embroidered in a workshop by a tapestry master. This piece is of linen interwoven with velvet, silver and silk embroidery, glass beads and pearls. Such tapestries were expensive and would either hang in beautiful Churches or eventually the homes of the very prosperous.
Campin, a guild master of painters and goldsmiths, offers us a glimpse of Jesus “the suffering servant” (Is 53) upheld for all to see, wrapped in the flowing stole of his proud and loving Father while the Holy Spirit of consolation perches on Our Lord’s shoulder uniting visually Father and Son. God the Father sits upon a huge throne – large enough for two! Heaven is depicted as the interior of a Gothic cathedral indicating the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, which, as the Body of Christ contains mystically the union of the Holy Trinity.
Thus it is fitting that the Feast of Corpus Christi should follow swiftly upon that of the Holy Trinity; and that as Paul suggests – we embrace our own gracious suffering so as to also be glorified with Christ (Rom 8:17).
-Steve Guillotte (Director of Pastoral Services)