More masque than mask
This Sunday is the feast of the personae - three of them to be precise. A persona is now typically defined as relating to an aspect of one's character - so you might for example refer to 'Adrian's public persona' as Vicar. However, the roots of persona are in ancient classical theatre. A persona was a mask worn by an actor to make plain the nature of the character being portrayed. Hence the posh name for the cast of a play, dramatis personae, literally meaning 'masks of the drama'. Different personae made obvious to an audience who were the goodies and who were the baddies, who was happy and who was sad - the illustration accompanying this article of two personae will be very familiar to theatre lovers.
When getting his head round the emerging doctrine of God in Christian belief in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, the North African theologian Tertullian (who was a bit of a bruiser) was probably the first to use the words trinitas and personarum when talking about God in this way. He is more nuanced than suggesting this is simply a matter of one God performing three roles, and his theology is not that of the later sophisticated development of Nicæa and Constantinople. But his contribution is essential.
You and I have personae. We put them on to enable us to get through the day. Under pressure, our masks slip - mine certainly does, as any member of the PCC will quickly affirm.
But God is, not surprisingly, in a different league.
We celebrate that fact on Trinity Sunday. The heart of this doctrine is not about roles being played, but relationships being celebrated. To pick up on Archbishop Justin's language in his sermon last Sunday, the Trinity is not God acting, but dancing. More masque than mask, if you like. And this divine dance calls for your participation: living and working to His praise and glory.
Image: Matisse, Dance 1, Paris, Boulevard des Invalides, early 1909, © 2021 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), MoMA New York