The Trinity – Cristofero Orimina

It is impossible to portray the Most Holy Trinity. It is also, in most circumstances, inappropriate. And yet, in a visual theological culture, of manuscripts, paintings and stained glass, it was not always easy to avoid the challenge. It may be more orthodox not to portray the Trinity, but this righteous refusal does lead to the danger of implying that the Trinity is somehow not personal.

Triangular symbols do not convey the personal nature of our God. We may mock and revile the medieval presentations, but at least they maintained this most crucial truth. One of the less well known attempts is this: a person with two faces, the old man and the young man, and with the wings of the Spirit.

Odd, isn’t it? But it does convey the personal, without falling into the homely and banal, and indeed so odd is this figure that we are perhaps less likely to anthropomorphize the Godhead. This truth is perhaps most important when considering creation.

Cristoforo Orimina, working in Naples around 1350, shows God the Trinity holding and directing a large sphere within which are shown light, darkness, the separation of the firmaments, and the earth. All is harmonious, infinite and abstract. By contrast, the God of creation is personal, not a mere force, nor a deeper abstract, but one who guides, orders and sustains.

The reader is given further hope and assurance, by the enthusiastic decoration of the initial letter H, with delicate detail and lively vine leaves enclosing the presentation. This is a great mystery, the artist is saying, but a source of joy not fear.

Anthony Saville