Trinitas in Unitate

''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...which faith unless everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.'' 

After the Apostles and Nicene Creeds, the Athanasian Creed is the third of the Catholic church's official creeds. It is distinguishable from the the other two creeds on account of its explicit Trinitarianism and harsh condemnations for those who disagree with its content. As such, it has been attributed to Athanasius of Alexandria, the c.3rd patristic writer and defender of Trinitarianism although it is more likely to have had a western author owing to the fact it was written in Latin and not Greek. 

Trinitarian orthodoxy is rather hard to understand as it simply does not fit within the realms of comfortable logic--it is a real mystery. This is probably why so many Trinitarian heresies have gained traction over the last two millennia--they seek to make easy and simplify something that is beyond human understanding.  As Catholic Christians we worship the triune God that is outlined in the words of the Athanasian Creed: one God in three distinct yet equal persons, united in substance in essence. The mystery was deepened by the Councils of Toledo (c.5-7th) which decreed that 'each single Person of the Trinity is wholly God in himself and all three persons together are one God.' How can this work? 

Perhaps one of the more intriguing attempts at shedding light on the mystery of the Trinity comes from Brian Leftow, a contemporary academic theologian based at Rutgers University. In his article A Latin Trinity (2004), Leftow posits an interesting hypothesis for how the Trinity might 'work'. Leftow asks his reader to consider New York's Rockettes--the chorus line of dancers that perform at Radio City Music Hall. On a particular day, only a dancer named Jane is able to come to work. By coincidence, Jane also happens to own a time machine. In order to avoid cancelling the show, Jane proceeds to dance alone on the stage before leaping into the time machine in order to return to the start of that same dance number. She then joins her past self on the stage and repeats the process. Before long, there is a line of over twenty Janes kicking their way across the stage to the delight of the audience. 

Leftow's point is that although all of the Janes exist at the very same time in our reality, they exist at different points in her reality. That is to say, her multiple realties intersect one particular point in our reality. Each Jane is fully 'Jane' and totally equal to all of the other Janes. They are able to communicate and converse with one another. They are also able to live out different lives and have different experiences all while existing as the exact same being. Leftow suggests that this is a way in which the Holy Trinity might 'work'. For the theologically curious, Leftow's complete article can be found here


Music: Josquin des Prez (1450-1521)
Text: Ordinary of the Mass
Artists: The Tallis Scholars/Peter Philips

According to contemporary accounts, Josquin was the greatest composer of his generation. A masterful composer and musician, he held positions in the Papal Chapel and in the court of the Duke of Ferrara. His masses, madrigals, and motets were published and printed numerous times by the Venetian printer Ottaviano Petrucci.

One particular strength of his was writing mensural canons. A canon is a compositional technique in which the same melody is played in all the voices after a given duration of time. Pachelbel's Canon in D (which is often used as a wedding processional) is an excellent example of this compositional technique. A mensural canon is one where a composer takes a melody and changes the rhythmic duration of the individual notes. 

Josquin's Missa l'Homme Arme super Voces Musicales was composed in the late c.15th. It is an example of what is known as a 'paraphrase mass'--the musical material is derived from a single plainsong or secular melody. In this case, Josquin sets a popular medieval song called 'l'homme arme' or 'the armed man'. 

The mass's Agnus Dei II is subtitled 'Trinitas in Unitate' or 'Trinity in Unity'. Josquin sets the words in a three-part mensural canon--the first one ever attempted--a true feat of contrapuntal mastery! With it, Josquin provides his listener with a musical explanation of the Holy Trinity. Each of the three parts has exactly the same melody (albeit with longer/shorter note values) and exists in perfect harmony with the other two parts. As all three parts start at the same moment, it is impossible to know which is the true melody--all three are absolutely equal. The annotated score below shows how this works:

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.



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