In the 1662 edition of the Book of Common Prayer, priests are instructed to substitute the Athanasian Creed for the Apostles Creed within the Morning Prayer liturgy on certain feast days. Trinity Sunday was one of those days. Given the fact that over half of the text is devoted to combatting heresies concerning the Trinity, its use on this day is most fitting. Here is the first section of that Creed:
Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith unless every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite. So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty. So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity; to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; So are we forbidden by the catholic religion; to say, There are three Gods, or three Lords. The Father is made of none; neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created; but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten; but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.
This Creed was probably not by Athanasius (c. 296-373), but was quite early attributed to him because its defends the same form of trinitarian orthodoxy as he did. It is the orthodoxy we affirm in the music of this service.
Our opening hymn — “I bind unto myself this day” — is by St. Patrick (372-466), whose lifetime probably overlapped with the composition of the text of the Athanasian Creed. The Trinity was for St. Patrick a strong name, the invocation of which (along with an affirmation of the Incarnation, the second major theme in the Athanasian Creed) was a source of protection against enemies, like body armor: a breastplate.
While singing the Sermon Hymn today — “Holy God, we praise thy name” — take note of the tune name: TE DEUM. The text to the hymn is an English translation of a German versification of the Te Deum laudamus, which we sing most of the year as a Sequence Hymn.
Many hymnals include an additional verse (usually before the final verse) in which more of the heavenly throng that worship the Trinity are identified:
Lo, the apostolic train
join Thy sacred name to hallow;
prophets swell the glad refrain,
and the white-robed martyrs follow;
and from morn to set of sun,
through the Church the song goes on.
The Offertory anthem today is Tibi laus, tibi gloria, a text traditionally sung at Matins on Trinity Sunday. Our setting is by Peter Philips (1561-1628), who added three lines to the traditional text (the first and fifth line below are the original text) to include more affirmations about the Trinity.
To you be praise, to you be glory, to you be thanksgiving, for ever and ever, O blessed Trinity.
The Father is charity, the Son grace, the Holy Spirit imparting goodness: O blessed Trinity.
The Father is conveying the truth, the Son is truth, the Holy Spirit truth: O blessed Trinity.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one substance, O blessed Trinity.
And blessed is the Holy Name of your glory, praiseworthy and exalted above all forever. Amen.
At Communion, the choir will sing a setting of the eucharistic hymn O sacrum convivium, composed by Luca Marenzio (1556-1599).
The Communion hymns today are “Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest” and “Come with us, O blessed Jesus.” This latter hymn was written by John Henry Hopkins, Jr. (1820-1891). Hopkins, a church musician, stained-glass window designer, and Episcopal priest, was one of the great leaders in the development of hymnody in the Episcopal church during the mid-nineteenth century. I imagine few people know him by name, but millions are familiar with his Epiphany hymn, “We three Kings of Orient are,” for which he also wrote the tune.
We sing “Come with us . . .” as a Communion hymn, but it originally had three other verses which identify it as a Christmas hymn:
Thou art God from everlasting,
God of God and Light of Light;
thou art God, thy glory veiling,
that men may bear the sight.
Beyond these walls O follow us,
our daily life to share,
that in us thy great and glorious light
may shine forth everywhere.
Thou art man, of Mary Virgin,
born today in Bethlehem;
thou art man, with griefs and sorrows
and thorns for a diadem.
Forever thou art one with us,
our life, our love divine:
our flesh and blood art thou, Lord;
and thou hast given us thine.
Born a babe, yet our Creator;
born a babe, yet God on high:
born of babe, O Son of David,
thy kingdom now is nigh.
Before thy cross victorious
O make thy foes to fall,
till the whole world sing Hosanna,
and own thee Lord of all.
Today’s closing hymn — “Holy, Holy, Holy” — may be the ultimate Trinity Sunday hymn. It was written by Reginald Heber (1783-1826), a scholar (fellow of All Souls, Oxford), priest (rector of a parish in Shropshire for sixteen years), and bishop of Calcutta from 1823 until his death. As bishop of Calcutta, all of India was his diocese. An admirer of the hymns of John Newton and William Cowper, Heber was one of the first High Church Anglicans to write his own.