Monday, October 8, 2007

Jesus the Lord: Central face of the Trinity

b. Trinity/Trimurti (Mandala Trimurti, Collage with gouache. 1973. In the collection of Missio in Aachen)
The experience of one God as a community of love between Father, Son and Spirit, in mainstream Christian faith has been seen as a key to ‘transforming vision’. Yet, few doctrines have baffled as much as the doctrine of three-in-One. In Muslim tradition, for instance, any reference to Jesus as ‘Son of God’, one within a Trinity, has usually been anathema, blasphemously making a human being equal with the Creator who is absolutely One, and is incomparably other than all his creation. From the Fathers of early Christian centuries onwards, three-in-oneness has been seen as the key to the perfection God’s inner life; the key also to human communion with divine Being and experience of divine life.

Catholic theological encounter with Hindu philosophical thought led the more mystical and metaphysical (Upadhyay, Abhishiktananda, Pierre Johanns, Smet and others) to find there important new insights for their trinitarian faith. For, while in Hindu religious experience there have been so many ‘names and forms’ (for divine beings too), the ultimate oneness of all things, all beings, there has also been given crucial revelatory import.
An early Vedic text, for example, says: ‘The seers call by many names that which is one’. And later: ‘By their words the sages impart manifold forms to that Bird which is one’. In the complex iconography of later Hindu faith, we find a three-faced image, a Tri-murti, expressing three-in-oneness. Creator, Sustainer and Destroyer are all found within One (usually in fact Vishnu).

It was mostly at an earlier stage that Jyoti expressed this three-in-one form in his imagery. The one we show here is a mandala, a circular symbolic focus for meditation. Jyoti writes: The face in profile on the left represents the Father, with his hand raised in the ‘Do not fear’ mudra. The central figure is Jesus, the Lord who is most manifest to our vision. In Hindu tradition this would be Isvara. The mudra is that of teacher, similar to the gesture indicating the Word that we find in Christian icons. Two fingers point upwards, two fingers, along with the thumb, folded across the hand. In traditional iconography index and ring fingers represent the two natures of Christ, human and divine.

The face in profile on the right is feminine. The ‘Energy’ in Hindu tradition, here she is divine Wisdom (sophia), the Presence (shekinah), the divine Spirit animating all. (This was how Fr Bede understood the image). Her gesture is that of Dhyana, pointing to the meditation by which we enter into a new consciousness, or - sometimes in western tradition - pointing to Beauty and Perfection.

The three faces are encircled by a folk-Indian Kolama pattern, rather like Celtic knot-forms. Some may see the burning bush here; others the crown of thorns. In fact what Moses saw - and where he heard the ‘I am that I am’ - was probably a thorn-bush.

There was, too, a more subtle form of threeness: within the fulness that is God, there is a one-in-threeness of ‘being-consciousness-bliss’ (sat-chit-ananda). Some Indian theologians saw close similarities here with Christian faith in Father, Son and Spirit.

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